Budget travel – mastering the art of Priceline hotel deals

You have probably seen the commercials – poor traveler needs a hot deal, and in jumps William Shatner, “The Priceline Negotiator”.

Priceline has been around for almost 10 years, and in those 10 years they have helped me (along with millions of others) snag a hotel room where I need it, when I need it, for the price I want.

I know it sounds like I’m being paid by Shatner himself, but when you can book a room for $50 when all other sites are still selling them for $200, you’ll learn to appreciate how handy Priceline can be.

Sadly, the whole process of “naming your own price” can be a tad daunting, I can still remember the first time I submitted a request to their site. There is something amazingly scary about handing over your credit card to a booking site and telling them to go ahead and just book you “something”.

It’s like haggling at the market – you never know when you’ll get a good deal, or when you’ll walk away with your trinket with the sad realization that you overpaid.

Thankfully, there are some handy tricks to becoming a master of Priceline – and ways you can be sure you’ll get the best value for your money.
But first, a little bit about Priceline and how they operate.

Priceline does a lot more than just “name your price”, they also operate as a regular travel booking site, with hotel, air, cruise and car rental rates pretty much on par with most of their competitors.

For the sake of this article I’ll only focus on the name your own price feature, as that is the one that makes them stand out from most others, plus it’s the best option out there for budget minded travelers.

Your first step in making a bid for a hotel room is to pick your destination and required dates. Once you have selected this, you are presented with a map of the area, and the various Priceline “zones”.


Before you do anything else, you’ll want to stop for a minute. Sure, you may know where you want to stay, and how much cash you have available for the dates you require, but what if you bid $50 for a hotel you could actually get for less? Or what if you bid $40 when Priceline only has rooms available for $90?

This is where the Internet can help you. You are not alone – many people just like you use Priceline, and take advantage of a weakness in the Priceline system – sharing information.

See, the whole name your own price system only really works in their advantage if everyone overbids. Sure, plenty of people will blindly enter $75 and get a room that costs Priceline $50, but the real pro’s only pay $50.

So, head on over to betterbidding.com and spend some time checking out the various winning bids from fellow Priceline customers. You’ll get a much better idea what kind of deal you can get, and which hotels are currently being offered on the site.

Betterbidding.com uses a fixed format for all submitted deals, and in each post you’ll find all the information you need to snag yourself a similar bargain.

Once you locate a date/area that matches what you need, open up the post to see exactly how they managed to place a winning bid.

You’ll see that most of these users base their initial bid on previous deals scored by others ,and that they take the information provided on the site and use it to their advantage.

The free rebid – your best friend on Priceline

William Shatner may pretend to be your best friend on TV, but in reality Priceline doesn’t really like it when you try and get too smart. The free rebid is one of those tricks that will help not only get a good deal, but get a good deal for the price you want, often even in the hotel you want.

If you make a bid for a hotel, but the bid is not accepted, Priceline will allow you to bid again, with a higher amount – BUT, only if you change at least one of the requirements for your reservation. This means you’ll either have to change the star rating of your desired room, or change/add a Priceline zone.

Here is an example – lets say you need a room in Chicago. You entered the dates you want, picked a 4 star hotel, and bid $60. You go through the booking process, and Priceline denies your bid.

At this point you raise your bid to $63, but in order to get a free rebid, you need to change one of the requirements on your request. Of course, if you add a different zone, you run the risk of being stuck with a hotel miles away from where you need to be. Unless of course, you add a zone with no hotels with the star rating you requested!

Here is how that works – you go back to Betterbidding.com, and select their Illinois hotel list. You’ll see that plenty of Chicago suburbs lack a 4 star hotel. So, pick one of those poor zones, and hey presto – you can successfully submit your free rebid.

Now, simply rinse and repeat until you find the price Priceline is willing to accept.

Sounds too complicated? Check out this real life example from someone at Betterbidding. In that example, you’ll see that they wanted a 4 star hotel in the downtown area. Their initial bid was declined, so they added a new zone (one without any 4 star hotels), denied again, added another zone (once again, a zone with no 4 star hotels), denied again, added yet another zone (once again, no 4 stars in that zone), and bingo – they got what they wanted.

$57/night for a downtown Chicago hotel is a steal. Just how much of a steal? Check out the going rate for rooms on those specific dates, at that hotel:

Thats right – Priceline got them 2 nights for less than the price of one night when booked through Hyatt.com.

If it sounds too simple, then it’s probably time to post a couple of warnings – the hotel lists posted by sites like Betterbidding.com are not guaranteed to be correct. Priceline is not stupid, and they can upgrade or downgrade hotels whenever they feel like it.

This means that playing the free rebid game may come with some risks, and the worst that could happen is that you end up 20 miles away from where you wanted to be – not a nice way to spend your time.

If you don’t want to run that risk, and you have some time to spare, then you can make a rebid 24 hours after the previous bid, without the requirement of changing things.

Another thing to be careful of, is doing free rebids and using a zone with no hotels with the rating your want, but if it DOES have a higher available hotel.

For example – if you want a 3 star hotel and get declined, you decided to play the rebid game and add a zone with no 3 star hotels (but one or more 4 star hotels), Priceline may decide to “upgrade” you to the 4 star hotel in the zone you really did not want to stay in – oops.

If you really want to master the art of getting what you want from Priceline, I recommend reading the successful bookings posted at Betterbidding. You’ll learn in a short amount of time what kind of tricks work, and of cour
se, which tricks do not work.

Once you are confident enough to click the “book now” button, you’ll be surprised just how often you can score a fantastic deal.

Will the hotel know I’m a Priceline customer?

One question I often hear is “will the hotel know I’m a Priceline customer”. The simple answer is yes, the hotel will almost always know you are a guest arriving on a Priceline reservation.

In most cases, this won’t matter, but I’ve occasionally come across a hotel that did not treat me as well as a “regular paying” guest. Unless they are spitting in your face and calling you names, I’d suggest ignoring it and enjoying the money you saved.

If you are a member of the hotel frequent guest program, try calling them in advance with your membership number, and make sure to call the hotel directly with any specific requests (smoking, non smoking etc). I’ve regularly been upgraded to a suite on my Priceline stay, all because I added my hotel elite status to my $40 reservation.

Priceline rooms are generally booked as non smoking, but if a hotel has nothing else available, they usually won’t have a problem sticking you in a stuffy smoking room, so as with all hotels, bring some Febreze.

Anything else to keep in mind?

Yes – when you name your own price, any accepted bid is locked in stone. There are no changes, no cancellations, no refunds and the reservation is not transferable. Priceline is pretty well known for being strict about this rule. If you are a regular Priceline customer, they may make a once in a lifetime exception for you, but it’ll require a lot of begging. If all else fails, try contacting the hotel directly, often their reservations department may be able to help you out.

Bottom line is – book with caution. Check and double check your dates, check and double check your zones before bidding. Yes, if you start using Priceline regularly, you may end up with a couple of reservations you messed up, and it will result in a waste of money when you can’t use them.

So there you have it – a couple of tips that should help you become a real pro at booking cheaper rooms. Got any tips of your own? Share them in the comments section below!