How Hotel Search Engines Work: An Inside Look at Roomkey’s Technology home pageIf you’ve gone on a vacation in the last five years, you’ve most definitely used some kind of hotel search engine to see your options and book your hotel room. From the search function on an individual hotel website to online travel agencies’ broad and sometimes sketchy search practices, hotel searches are definitely not all created equal.

We took a look at the inner workings of online booking technology to examine the logistics and see how our own site falls on the hotel-search spectrum. Long story short, we do things a little differently…

First, What Is a Hotel Search Engine?

Simple: It’s just a site that you’d use to search for hotels. More specifically, it’s a site that you’d use to search for hotels across multiple hotel chains (instead of going to and then and then Best Western, Hyatt, etc.). Hotel search engines let you search all of those hotel brands at once, and that’s convenient.

To get more specific, there are two main types of hotel search engines, and the difference boils down to whether or not that site takes your booking. Online travel agencies (OTAs for short) like Expedia,, Travelocity, etc. take your booking on their site. You pay them, not the hotel. In contrast, meta-search sites like Kayak, Trivago, Google Hotel Search, and Hipmunk don’t take your booking on their site; they send you off to another site to book (often an OTA).

Between these two types of hotel search engines, you have a lot of options as a customer and it can get overwhelming. They all want your business, and they are all fighting hard for it. Their advertisements and urgency messages that clutter their sites make it hard to know who you should pay attention to and who you should trust. It’s especially confusing these days because, even though you feel like you have a lot of site options, you’re really just dealing with two giant corporations

Is Roomkey a Hotel Search Engine Too?

Yes, we are. But we’re different than the rest. More on our history here, but the TL;DR is that we didn’t like what all those other hotel search engines were doing. We saw how Expedia Group and Booking Holdings were swallowing up the other OTAs and meta-search sites that came on the scene until they essentially became a huge duopoly that actually gave customers fewer options instead of more. We also didn’t like how these sites felt like they were scamming us every time we tried to book a hotel. So, we created Roomkey to give travelers a simpler option. 

Roomkey works similar to how all the other hotel search engines work: We consolidate hotel listings from our partners into one platform. Travelers like this aspect the most about OTAs and meta-search sites, so we did the same thing. Roomkey gives you the ability for a one-and-done search. 

But How Is Roomkey Different?

At Roomkey, we want you to have the fairest and simplest search experience available. Unlike other sites, we strive to not bias our search order by anything that boosts our bottom line at your expense. In fact, our search order is simple: by distance to the city center. Our search experience is clean and not cluttered with those fake urgency messages that we’ve mentioned before. We also want to put the power in your hands as much as possible by allowing you to filter your results so you see the hotels that are the best for your trip.

Roomkey also has a direct connection to the hotels which is something no other hotel search engine can claim because we were founded by six of the major hotel chains. This means we have a one-to-one partnership with those hotels so we get our information straight from the source, ensuring accuracy. In addition, this direct connection allows us to list their loyalty rates in our search results. We stand out this way because you won’t find these (often lower) rates listed on an OTA or meta-search site.  

This connection to our partners is how you can be sure that our search is as fair as possible. We’re the neutral, common ground among them. It was written into our charter that our search function would be fair and free of bias, and we’re legally bound to that. This is ideal for you because you know you’ll get the best option for you instead of the best option for our finances.

How Our Site Works

If you’re into the tech behind this kind of thing, you should know that Roomkey was built on state-of-the-art technology right from the start. We hire wicked smart programmers who get really jazzed about the technology that we use. We are frequent attendees of the annual Clojure technology conference, and we were recently listed as one of Charlottesville’s top 15 places to work because of the rewarding work that we do (and the fun that we have while we’re doing it.) The hard work that gets put into operating our search platform has paid off through its long-term stability. Our technology gives us latitude to invest in more meaningful solutions than merely trying to scale up or adopt new technology fads.

The last thing that sets Roomkey’s search apart is the final part of the hotel-searching process: booking your room. With Roomkey, instead of making your reservation on our site like an OTA, we send you directly to the hotel website to complete your booking with them. We do this for a couple reasons: One, it’s the only way to offer you lower loyalty membership pricing and rewards; and two, it puts you in direct contact with the hotel, which secures your booking and ensures their best customer service and accommodations.

So, start your hotel search today with Roomkey. And if you’re a sucker for more behind the scenes, we also have the scoop on other hotel processes like how hotel pricing works and the different types of hotel rates.