I love Priceline, and you should to.
I have been staying in top notch accommodations for significantly cheaper than the advertised rate for years now. How? Priceline.com. I have been naming my own price on 4 star hotels across North America since 2007 and have been raving about the wins on this blog. And why wouldn’t I? How about $45 a night for a Bellagio fountain view room at Planet Hollywood in Vegas. $35 ($35!) for an English Bay Hotel in Vancouver. $50 for downtown Portland. $70 for a Parliament Hill Marriott in Ottawa. These have all been name brand hotels in great areas and I have nothing but great things to say about each stay.
I am often asked by readers and friends how Priceline bidding works. After explaining that you don’t bid on a specific hotel but a hotel in a guaranteed area with a guaranteed star rating they are often scared off.
“So I could end up in crackton?”
Technically, yes…if you select a bad area.
“Oh. And I can wind up with a budget motel?”
Well you could…if you select a low star rating.
Most don’t get past these thoughts. Those that do are usually scared off by the complicated sounding yet simple bidding process. It’s a shame as they probably paid significantly more for their stay as a result.
Well this ends now. Overpay no more friend, I am here to help. I will clear the misconceptions, explain the bid process step by step, and share tips on how to maximize your winnings. Huzzah!
Dispelling The Myths
Before we get started let’s put some myths to rest. Leave your negative baggage at the door please.
I don’t want a dirty room — Neither do I and neither does Priceline. They are a company after all so why would they sell a bad product? You are guaranteed a standard room (usually 2 queen beds) in a hotel of the star rating you selected. I have only selected between 3 and 4 star hotels (they have the deepest discounts) and have never had an issue with the room being unpleasant.
I don’t want a run down hotel — Again, the star rating is the star rating and will determine your hotel condition. I have had a few wins where the hotel was undergoing renovations (floors, pools, lobby etc…) and that is why the discounts where so deep. See Maximizing Win for ways around these situations.
I don’t want to stay in a bad location — This is up to you. Do the research and figure out what area of town you want to stay in. Most of the time “downtown” is a centrally located best bet option but your situation and destination can vary. Plan ahead and take note of the Priceline defined boundaries for your selected area.
I can’t cancel if something comes up — This one is true…mostly. Once you win your hotel you are instantly charged for the duration of the stay at the price bid on (+ applicable taxes) Prepaying is one of the reasons you are getting a great deal in the first place so make sure your dates are correct before you bid and that you are 100% going on your trip. If you are concerned you do have the option to pay a little more for the ability to cancel. Be sure to read the fine print if you select this option.
Is it really cheaper? — Yes. Granted its been a over a year since I have won a room for ridiculous savings, all winnings have still been much less than the posted prices. Since I started using site many other companies have come out offering similar services making for more competition. This has leveled the playing field in a sense. Sites like Hotwire offer unnamed hotels for a reduced price and social coupon sites like Groupon and Living Social offer deals that have restricted dates. Still with all these added services bidding on your hotel through Priceline remains the cheapest option.
Really?? — Still not convinced? Priceline guarantees the lowest rate so if you find a better price than what you end up paying with your bid they will make it right. See fine print for details.
Examples of not so perfect wins:
I booked a hotel in San Diego a couple years ago in an area that included this little sliver that jetted north 15 miles. I didn’t think much of it until I won a Hyatt hotels…at the very tippy top of this area. Exactly 15 miles from where I wanted to be. Crap. Beware of areas like this. Clearly the area was expanded to include this hotel. It turned out to be a fantastic hotel and the Buffalo Bills were staying at there so it was OK in the end.
New Orleans last year ended up giving us a room without any beds. Yup. There was a pullout couch and cots they brought in because they oversold the hotel due to the Jazz fest. The room was huge and included a full kitchen and amazing views…just no beds. Don’t worry, this is rare and in the end I ended up getting the full stay reimbursed as you are guaranteed 2 double beds as a minimum. In ended up being 3 free nights in NOLA for 4 people.
Feeling better about this? Good, let’s start.
First thing first, here is what you need to know before bidding:
- You are bidding on price per night before taxes.
- Your bids include a minimum hotel star rating. ie. If you select 3* you will actually be bidding on 3* and up.
- Your bid includes the area of town you want to stay in.
- You get 1 bid per star rating and area for dates selected every 24 hours. There are ways around this and will explain.
- Create an account so you don’t have to re-enter the same information every time you bid.
Defining area – Like most hotel booking sites, Priceline breaks up city’s by areas. They can be viewed on a map by clicking on Name Your Own Price and entering your city of choice. Zoom in and determine what area you want to stay in. Note the size of the area and understand that your hotel can be found anywhere within the boundaries listed.
I am often asked how the bidding works and I usually end up confusing people when trying to explain it out loud. Granted it does take a bit of time and patience and a small element of risk however the reward always far outweighs the hassle. It’s really not that complicated it you follow these steps.
Decide the location of town you wish to stay in. Keep in mind the transportation costs vs. parking if you are driving your own vehicle. I tend to stay in areas that are near major attractions and everything you need should be accessible by foot. This saves on time and money.
2) Determine baseline
Look up what 3-4 star hotels are going for on discount sites. Check your dates on Priceline.com using there regular booking system as well as Hotwire.com. Be sure to select the area you want to stay in. Priceline will give you an idea of what they have available in the area. Hotwire will give you an idea of what unnamed hotels are going for in the area. Start bidding below this value.
Check to see if Priceline has any express deals for your selected area. This feature will show you what you can get an unnamed hotel deal for in a certain area. Start bidding below this value.
Check betterbidding.com for any winners similar to your dates. This is a forum where people can post their winning bids and the strategy they used. Search the Priceline forum by the state or country you are looking for. Posting your winning bid here is good Karma as well.
Note: Prices fluctuates with many factors. Conventions and other events can drastically effect hotel prices and availability. Keep these in mind and look ahead for said events before selecting your travel dates. Also the day of the week your stay falls on can effect price ie weekends typically more expensive then weekdays.
3) Bid Strategy
Once you have determined a baseline price to start next is determining how many rebids you can get for the area you want. As previously mentioned Priceline makes you change your area, or star rating in order to bid again within 24 hours. Here is your way around that:
If the area you want to stay in is a popular one it will include hotels in all star ratings. If you are looking for a 4* hotel then click through all other areas and record which ones do not include 4* hotels (option will be greyed out) These areas will be used to rebid. Remember, Pricline only allows you to rebid if you change a setting – date, hotel rating, or area. Since your dates and hotel rating are what you want to keep the same you can rebid by adding an area that does not have your desired level, in this case 4*.
So let’s say you have determined that the city you are staying in has 5 areas that do not include a 4* bidding option, this means you can up your price and rebid 4 times. Tricky hey?
Got it sorted? Give it a go.
Here we go. Step by step.
1) Open a browser and head to Priceline.com.
2) Click on Name your own Price. Enter your desired location and date.
3) Open a tab (second browser window) and repeat steps 1 & 2.
Note: Browser Tab 1 will be how you determine and keep track of re-bid zones. browser Tab 2 will be where you bid.
4) In browser 2 select your area of choice and star rating and enter your starting price.Note: I typically start well below the baseline price ($20 less) and usually 60% less than the median price listed. If this price is above $100 then start around $80 and work up from there. I have rarely paid more than $100/night for a 4*.
5) Enter info under Reservation name. Sign in by entering your password or create an account if you have not already done so.
6) Decline or accept Trip cancellation.
Note: I have never used it.
7) Initial and select payment info.
Note: Verify your dates and area are correct now!
8) Click book now. Wait for Shatner to do his thing.
9) Chances are you will be declined on your first go. No worries, time to rebid! Add an area that does not have your desired hotel rating. Verify this with the hotel list in tab #1.
Caution: Always double check as listings can change. You do not want to add an area that now includes a 4 star hotel and be stuck out by the aiport.
10) Increase your bid.
Note: I typically increment by $5. This depends on how many rebids you get and how patient you are. ie if you have 5 rebids you can increment by $5 up to 5 times = $25 range. If you are unsuccessful after the 5 rebids you have to start again 24 hours later at the last price you left off at. If I feel like I am close (usually around $85 – $100) and am not in a hurry I will increment by $2-$3.
11) Repeat steps 4 to 10 until successful.
If you go far beyond your determined baseline price chances are there is an event going on in the city that makes discounted rooms limited. If you are still planning on going keep increasing your bids as you will still score a hotel cheaper than their advertised price. Also note that if you are within range of the winning bid Priceline will sometimes counter offer. This is usually saying if you increase your bid by $25 dollars chances are we will have a room for you. Do not do this. Stay the course, you are close. I have received this counter offer several times and have declined then rebid by slightly increasing my offer and won a hotel.
Maximize your winning
You won! Congrats. Now lets make the most out of your stay.
Contact hotel directly — for any requests you may have. Priceline guarantees you a room that will sleep 2 people which may mean 2 queens or 1 double or king sized bed. Pending on your situation you many want to advise them of your preference. Most hotels will say they can’t guarantee anything as it can change the day you check in but you can put the request in and have it noted on your file. Include other preferences like non-smoking rooms and rooms with view or highest floor available at your rooms price range. Also ask if there is any renovations taking place. If there is request a room away from the noise.
If you are arriving late in the day to your hotel it is a good idea to call the day of to reconfirm your requests as your preferred room can be given away to other guests. If you are traveling in a group of more than 2 people and are intending to crash in one room then calling ahead is advisable to ensure you get 2 beds. Do not let them know you are planning on having more than two guests as the hotel may charge additional fees per person. Instead have your friends loiter in the hotel bar until room is sorted and provide them with a key to meet you up there. How very secret agent of you.
Bonus cash — Keep an eye out for Bonus cash promotions by signing up for newsletter and keeping tabs on social media. Often Priceline will send out bonus cash to be used towards your bid. This is a great help as $10 bonus cash can make your $85 a night bid only cost you $75 a night. Boom. Deeper discounts.
Give it a go on your next trip. Once you get the hang of it you will never go back to conventional bookings. Any questions contact me or comment below!
And don’t forget the fine print…