We have been fortunate enough to stay at some of the fanciest hotels in North America in places like Palm Springs, San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and Vancouver, and have almost always paid less then $100 per night, sometimes much less. So how do we do it? Easy, by naming our own price on Priceline.com
I have to admit, I kind of like the unknown surprise nature of Priceline – and as a photographer, I rarely care what hotel I’m in, as long as it is a decent room in the area I want to photograph. But there is a lot to using Priceline effectively, here are some things I have learned.
I won’t walk you through the actual steps for bidding – the process is very easy, and there is plenty of help on the Priceline site. But beware, you are required to enter all your credit card information upfront, and if your bid is accepted, the transaction is final, there is no backing out because you don’t like the hotel, price or anything else. Also, make sure you are using the Name Your Own Price section of the Priceline website – there is more then one way to book a hotel room with Priceline so look closely. The biggest savings are found by naming your own price bidding.
Because there is no reversing your transaction, I play it safe and stick with the best hotels. You never know what hotel you are going to receive, so to eliminate the chance of “winning” a dump, I stick with the highest rated hotels. This means 4 star properties in most areas, or in some places like the Palm Springs area, you want to go with resort properties.
Do your research. There are two great forums, both organized by city/state where users share the dollar amount, dates and hotel information for recent winning bids. Again there is no guarantee, but by spending some time on these sites, you can get a feel for what people are paying, and what hotels people are typically winning. Both BiddingForTravel.com and BetterBidding.com have valuable information. In addition to these resources, I will often check out 4 star hotel prices on Hotwire and other on-line sources like Expedia, or better yet by checking directly with a few hotels. If you aren’t able to bid and save a fair amount of money as compared to these traditional sources, there is no point in naming your own price with Priceline.
Now for making your actual bid. One of the challenging things with Priceline is that you are only allowed one bid per 24 hours. You can’t re-bid unless you expand the region, or the the star rating of the hotel (lower). I’m sure this is so that users don’t bog things down with repeated rebids for low-ball amounts – plus, it helps to encourage higher bid amounts. But, there are a couple of things you can do to work around this restriction.
For one, start your bidding a few days in advance so that you have a few 24 hour periods to work with. But, there is another way to rebid for free in many circumstances.
One of the most popular methods for getting a free rebid, is to add an area that doesn’t have a 4 star hotel – by adding an additional neighborhood, you are able to bid again, but if there aren’t any 4 star hotels in the new neighborhood, you are effectively getting a free bid at your chosen neighborhood.
Let me give an example. We recently traveled to Vancouver, so I entered our chosen dates and the town of Vancouver into Priceline. Next Priceline displays 8 different neighborhoods or areas within the Vancouver region. We wanted to stay in downtown, and a click in the box next to downtown shows the entire range of star levels available. Next, one by one I check the other areas like Coquitlam – Burnaby. In Coquitlam – Burnaby, I see there aren’t any 4 star hotels available ( see image below). Now I know I can make one bid just for downtown, and if it isn’t successful, I can add Coquitlam – Brunaby to my request and bid again knowing my winning bid will still be located in my chosen neighborhood of Downtown. In fact for Vancouver, I see I can get 5 free re-bids by adding the areas of City Hall – Downtown South, Coquitlam – Burnaby, Langley, North Vancouver, and Surrey – Pitt Meadows. I don’t know where any of those areas are, but it doesn’t matter because they don’t have 4 star hotels. If you want to be downtown, be sure you don’t add the Airport region, as it does have 4 star hotels. Always double check this information, as it can always change – don’t rely on my example, or your recent history because a higher class hotel can be added by Priceline at anytime.
Now Vancouver has an exceptional number of free rebid areas, small towns might not have any, but it seem like most places I have visited have at least one or two. I should add, I won the Marriott Renaissance Harbourside for $75 on my first attempt – given I had 5 free re-bids, I hate to win on my first attempt because I probably went too high – but for that hotel and that price, how can you go wrong!
Priceline is most effective for travel at non-peak times. We have had much better success in the Palm Springs area during mid-week as this is a popular weekend getaway. Likewise, we had more success for downtown San Diego (Omni pictured above) on the weekend when the hotels weren’t full of top paying business travelers. Now that might be different if it was a home weekend for the Padres.
What about Hotwire? With Hotwire the price and the class of hotel is set, but you still don’t know what hotel you are actually reserving. I have found Hotwire’s prices are often 30% or more higher then what I can get with Priceline, so I haven’t used them. For example Hotwire wanted $115 for a 4 star hotel for the same period we received the $75 Priceline hotel for our recent Vancouver trip The one advantage to Hotwire is that they list the amenities for the selected hotel – things like pools, workout facility, airport shuttle etc. So if something like that is important to you, it might be worth paying more. Be sure you know that Hotwire price – there is no reason to over bid their rate.
Are you treated like a second class guest? Only once did we feel like we were intentionally given the worst room in the place at a resort in Palm Springs. One thing I like about 4 star or better properties is that there usually isn’t a bad room. On a couple of occasions we were upgraded to a better view room for free – this also happened at a Palm Springs resort, and on a couple of other occasions, we asked, and were able to upgrade to a view room for a minimal price. For example, for photography purposes, I wanted a top floor, ocean view room during our recent travels to both Vancouver and Victoria and was able to upgrade for around $30 more at the time of check in. Keep in mind though, there are no guarantees.
Why do hotels use Priceline? Priceline allows them to fill empty rooms without alienating their current guests and undermining the perception of the hotel with a bunch of discounting to their current posted rack rates. It is really a win win!
So, next time you need a nice hotel and want to save some money, try naming your own price with Priceline.com a try – it is fun.