It should be a given that hostels will save individual travelers more money than a hotel would. (Of course there are exceptions. Last spring, I stayed at a hotel in Reno. Out of curiousity I looked up a bed in a Reno hostel, and it was twice the price!) For those of you unfamiliar with hostels, let me give you a brief description: you rent a bed in a dorm room, so you typically end up with roommates from around the world. Hostels are a much more social way to travel, which is especially great for the solo traveler. Plus, since you only book a bed and not an entire room, the hostel charges you less. Huge savings! In fact, my European trip would not have been affordable except for the abundance of great hostels.
So hostels in and of themselves save money, but there are ways to save even more on your hostel. When booking, of course consider whether or not breakfast is included, if you will need to bring your own towel, and little factors like that which could affect the cost. Also consider where you book your hostel. I use a mix of websites to book depending on what is the most advantageous for my bank account. Here are the perks of each:
Hostelworld This is the most popular hostel booking site. The concept is pretty simple, you find a hostel in their database, pay 10% of the total to hold your place, and pay the other 90% when you arrive at the hostel. It is easy to get acquainted with this, but it is actually one of my least favorite booking sites. Sure, I may go there when they are running a contest or something like that, but Hostelworld does not really have any rewards system for people who book with them. This is why I prefer some of the lesser known booking sites.
Hostelz This has been a longtime favorite of mine. It is not exactly a booking site itself, but it uses several other popular booking sites to find you the cheapest rates. Because it is a culmination of booking sites, it is the biggest hostel database I have found to date. The only downside to this is that it is a little harder to organize the plethora of hostels in big cities and weed it down to the one where you should stay. Some listed hostels are not on any booking sites, which is cool because you can still contact them directly for a bed, but sometimes this means they closed years ago and did not inform Hostelz. The best part of Hostelz is that I write for them! Browse around their website to find my city descriptions and hostel reviews.
HostelsClub This is a hostel that I found out about just before leaving for Europe, and it has been well used over the past several weeks! They are currently running a promotion where if you book so much, you can get free nights at a hotel in Venice. I was able to get two free nights at a centrally located hotel while in Venice thanks to this. The only problem with HostelsClub is that they do charge a service fee for every booking, but that can be avoided by getting a HostelsClub membership. With the membership, you qualify for discounts at some hostels. So my membership paid for itself after just a few nights of booking! Best of all, every time you submit a review after a stay, HostelsClub gives members a 2 euro credit to use when booking future stays. It is almost like getting paid to stay at hostels!
Booking Directly with the Hostel While hostel booking sites are ideal for the long term traveler, any booking deposit you pay online does not actually go to the hostel itself. If you want to support the local economy where you visit, the best thing to do is book directly with the hostel so they can get the most money. This can be done by phone calls, emails, or booking on the website. Sometimes it is difficult to communicate with the staff, or their booking program does not really work. But sometimes, you can get a better deal because of this. While booking the Pisa Hostel, I saved 5% by booking with them as opposed to a booking site. They made a little more, and I saved a little more, so everyone won!
There is no one best way to make a booking to save money. The important thing to do is compare the above (and any other sites you have found useful) to maximize your travel money!