Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Using Priceline to Book a Hotel

I have secured more than a handful of rooms in the last couple of years using the name-your-own-price feature to book a hotel room on Priceline, and like my experience last week (which I shared in this post), I have saved up to 75% of the going rate on the hotel site (generally closer to 50%). If your trip is not a sure thing, do NOT bid on Priceline, because once your bid is accepted, it is non-refundable. They do have trip insurance, which I have purchased before (for only a few dollars), but one time I tried to use it, because the girlfriend with whom I was getting away had a medical emergency (her mom was on life support). When I tried to redeem it, I was told that she would have to have the attending doctor fill out forms, which is NOT what she wanted to be doing when she returned home unexpectedly. So, my husband and I went instead, and it was fine. However, if I was planning a getaway that would be curtailed by a child's illness, I probably would go ahead and buy the insurance, knowing that I could get their pediatrician to say that mom shouldn't be away.

I think that the biggest obstacle people have is nerves. You are not sure what you are getting. That's one reason I would never use this for airfare, but for hotels there are reasons why I am confident in bidding blindly and taking the risk:
  • You bid within a star level and are guaranteed that star level (I have been happy with 4 star hotels--nicer and newer Hiltons, Marriots etc, as well as 3 stars, which include Doubletree, some Hiltons, etc).
  • You bid within a certain area of the city, so although you may be several blocks from your ideal location, you won't be across town. A few city blocks more than makes up for a couple of hundred dollars in savings.
  • I have generally only bid on a one or two-night stay, so I don't have that much to lose.
  • I found some experts who walked me through the process. The internet community at Better Bidding is fantastic! You can find out about the "free rebid" process which enables you to start low and re-bid often in order to get the best deal. They also have specific boards for each region, on which people post their recent winning bids (as you should do to add to the community if their tips help you). For example, I went to the Massachusetts board, and then the Priceline forum (they also have Hotwire tips), and found out that many people had won 4 star hotels in downtown Boston for $80 to $100 around that time, so I felt confident starting at $70, and using the free re-bid system to get me to $100, which was the accepted bid. The moderators there will even walk you through a bidding strategy if you ask for help in the specific state/Priceline board. I would be glad to give you specific help, too.
  • I've done my research. I only bid on Priceline after I've looked at other options. If I know that the cheapest room I can get elsewhere is $300, it is worth a bit of a gamble for me to try to bid up to $175, saving 1/3 off, so I give it a try. Better Bidding also has posted lists of hotels that others have won (although this is not a comprehensive list, it gives me peace of mind to get an idea for the types of hotels and specific locations within the Priceline zones). They can be found in the states section on the front page of the forum (Here is a link to the New York list).
Another thing to remember is that Priceline books a room for two people. What that means is that all you are guaranteed is one bed, and in some cities, such as New York City (where I most frequently use it), you might have a small room with no room for a portacrib or cot. However, once you have your reservation, you can call the hotel and request two double beds. They always say that can't guarantee it (for a Priceline reservation), but my request has usually been honored, and I have even received room upgrades upon check-in.

If you like the thrill of ebay, you'll probably like gambling on a great hotel rate as well. If you want to save money on hotels, but just reading this post has made you want to take an Alka Seltzer, I have also had great luck finding low rates on Quikbook. It is totally refundable, and unlike Travelocity and some other sites, there's no surcharge or prepayment required.

This post is already too long, and I know that there are questions I haven't addressed. If you have specific questions or concerns (or if you're a pro and have some sure-fire tips), please leave them here in the comments and I will try to answer them in the comments as well.

Tomorrow I will post two more great travel sanity-savers. You'll have to spend a few bucks for these, but maintaining sanity on the road is worth a few bucks for me.

6 comments:

At A Hen's Pace said...

Jennifer--

Very practical info! I'll be coming back to this post when we think about an overnight in Chicago for our anniversary in December.

Thanks!

Jeanne

Shauna said...

Thanks for the tips!

Jendeis said...

Thanks for the advice (I got here through your WFMW post). I've always wanted to try Priceline, but was afraid I'd mess it up.

I feel like I could do it now that I have your instructions. :)

Stephanie said...

Wow! I'll have to remember these tips the next time I need a hotel. I'm thinking about an overnight getaway with my hubby this fall. I could use the tips then.

Katrina said...

Okay, I'm going to bookmark this post, and give Priceline a try when we're traveling a little more. Of course, I'm sure I'll be asking you to walk me through it the first time or two. :)

Dianne said...

This is something I wouldn't mind trying sometime either. Thanks for the helpful post; I'm bookmarking it also!