Since being established in Amsterdam way back in 1996, Booking.com has well and truly solidified its place as a global titan in the online travel industry. In fact, after weathering nearly 3 decades, the plucky little upstart that is Booking.com is now pretty much ‘part of the furniture’ and a bona-fide member of the travel holy trinity along with Skyscanner and Tripadvisor.
To put this in numbers, the Booking.com app has been downloaded over 50 million times and in 2022 they facilitated over 700 million visits across their 2.7 million different property listings.
Personally, whenever I am starting my travel research or brainstorming for travel-inspo, I open up both a Booking and Skyscanner window simply to get an idea of what a prospective trip might cost. I even do this when I have no real intention of using Booking.com, purely to get a feel for what the on-the-ground costs might be.
However, even I (a professional traveller) still tend to exclusively use Booking.com when I am searching for hotels and guesthouses… when in reality, they offer far, far more than this. Well, we are going to correct this and take a look at the range of other services that Booking.com offers.
Booking.com – More Than Just Hotels
It’s fascinating how brand perception works. When most travellers hear “Booking.com”, their minds instantly gravitate towards hotel rooms with bland wallpaper and neat beds. I even scientifically tested this hypothesis by asking 3 of my mates what it is they used Booking.com for.
This is of course, a testament to the strong brand identity Booking.com has built over the years in the hotel reservation space. Not even the relentless ad campaign that Trivago launched was able to take Booking.com’s place as the ‘go-to’ in the hotel space.
But this strength has an unintended side-effect: familiarity blindness. Many users, accustomed to its hotel booking prowess, often overlook the myriad of other handy services that the platform offers.
But Booking.com actually offers far, far, far more than just hotels as we shall now see…
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Homestays and Long Stays
Let’s be honest, Airbnb has become ubiquitous – and did have the homestay market locked down for years (often, problematically and controversially so). In some ways, Airbnb has even become a synonym for ‘homestay’ in the same way that Uber is becoming a synonym for ‘taxi’.
But as well as offering hotels and guesthouses, Booking.com also offers a growing number of homestay options. (Think of it like “Airbnb By Booking.com” if that helps).
Now, whenever I am searching ‘for an Airbnb’ I also have a Booking.com window open too. Sometimes the same property is listed on both platforms. And sometimes, it can even be cheaper on Booking as they don’t charge the increasingly insane cleaning fees that are becoming commonplace on Airbnb.
I have been using Booking.com’s homestay properties increasingly frequently and found a couple of absolute gems on my recent trip to Crete. However, potential guests should be aware that while the prices can be tempting, the protection policies may not be as comprehensive as those found on dedicated home-sharing platforms.
My go to place to search for cheap flights is Skyscanner. And as I said in the opening salvo, I begin every trip I take by browsing Skyscanner with a Booking.com window also open.
However, Booking.com also offers flight booking services. Their flight booking system, leveraging a similar algorithm to platforms like Skyscanner, offers competitive rates and multiple airline options.
What is REALLY interesting here, is that the Booking.com platform may even be better than Skyscanner here. I say this because in researching this very piece, I tested the Booking.com flights-scanner to try and find a return flight from Manchester to Naples for next month (November). Booking.com came up with an pretty good offer whereas Skyscanner was unable to find any flights that matched my filters!
What’s more, they also offer a “Flight + Hotel” option so you can search for both at once. However, I haven’t yet ever tried using this option as I personally prefer the level of control that I can lock in by searching for both of these things independently.
In terms of downsides though, the Booking.com platform does not allow users to search entire countries, There’s still now “I’m flexible” option to search for an entire month, or the “Everywhere” option which is my personal favourite feature of Skyscanner.
The feeling of disembarking from a long flight, only to be met with the chaos of haggling with local taxi drivers or trying to figure out foreign public transport systems, can be daunting. In fact, it is usually the LAST thing I want after arriving in a strange country at 3am after a long flight.
While ride-sharing apps like Uber are very handy, they aren’t operational everywhere. Some airports even BAN Ubers from entering. And in places where they are operational, one still needs an internet connection to book one – a luxury that travelers might not immediately have upon landing (unless you get an eSim before you fly…).
Booking.com, recognizing this pain point, now offers pre-booked airport taxis, ensuring a smoother transition from the plane to your accommodation with their airport taxi booking facility. They use accredited, vetted taxi drivers who will be waiting for you when you land and will know your end destination. It may not always be the cheapest way to get from the airport to your digs, but personally I believe that this is a service well worth paying a few bucks more for.
A new country, a new contract, a new piece of plastic – booooring. Instead, buy an eSIM!
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Not just content with helping you get to your destination and giving you a place to sleep, Booking.com now dives into enhancing your travel experience with local attractions.
Their offerings are a mix of mainstream touristic activities and unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences. Think of it as a meld between Get Your Guide, Viator, and Airbnb Experiences, curated by Atlas Obscura. Whether you want to visit the iconic landmarks or indulge in local crafts, there’s likely an experience waiting for you on Booking.com.
Personally, I find this can be a great way to find ideas for things to do in your destination. I even used it to find things to do in Liverpool (my adopted home city) and was very pleasantly impressed by a silent-disco bar crawl being offered that takes in Liverpool’s vast musical heritage.
The only criticism is that some of the attractions seem to cost a few quid more than they would by booking directly so I would only use this to find “curated” experiences where you are paying a justifiable premium for a guide.
The freedom of having a personal vehicle while travelling cannot be understated. While I do love getting to grips with local transport and rubbing shoulders with the great and good in a new destination, some places are simply made for driving and done better with a car. Well for those road trip enthusiasts among you, or for those who simply like to explore at their own pace, the glad tidings are that Booking.com can now help you to find a rental car.
The search engine is easy to use so you can play with dates, times, pickup and drop locations. The platforms offers a range of vehicles to choose from and coming in with some seriously competitive prices, it complements the other travel services on the platform perfectly.
Now, this particular function is very welcome as far as I am concerned. I recently rented a car myself in Greece, and as I was unable to find a car-rental aggregator, I had to scour loads of different websites to find the best deal. However, on first impressions, the Booking.com car rental function is absolutely bloody fantastic.
While I am not saying it scours all available options, there are plenty of good offerings at market-beating prices. Honestly, had I found this just one week ago, then I could have saved myself one hour, and $6 on my Greek rental car!!!
Booking.com has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a hotel booking website. Today, it stands as a holistic travel platform catering to almost every aspect of a traveller’s journey (although they don’t do visas, insurance, or sunscreen quite yet).
Whether you’re backpacking across Europe or planning a weekend getaway, it’s worth exploring the multifaceted offerings of Booking.com. Familiarity blindness might be real, but once you see the full spectrum of services, you’ll never look at Booking.com the same way again – take it from me.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!