How to game Priceline to get the best deal on a hotel room

If you like to stay in nice hotels but hate paying full price for them, you’ve probably tried to bid for a room on Priceline at some point. But are you sure you got the lowest possible price? I’ve been using Priceline to bid on hotel rooms for years and I think I have the experience down to a science. Here’s how I use the site.

Map out a bidding strategy using free re-bids

If you’re familiar with Priceline, you know that if you’re opening bid is rejected, you need to alter either the star level, dates of travel, or geographic zones in order to bid again. Otherwise you have to wait a full 24 hours before submitting the same request, even if you’re willing to increase your bid.

A good way to circumvent this rule when bidding on hotel rooms in large cities is to determine what level of accommodation Priceline offers within each geographic zone. All you have to do is click each zone, one-by-one and see what star levels below gray out. For example, Atlanta has 21 zones. If you click into each, you’ll discover that only 6 of those zones have 4 star hotels; 3 other zones have nothing better than 3.5 star hotels; 7 zones max out at 3 stars; 3 offer only 2.5 or 2 star hotels, and 2 allow bids only on 2 star hotels.

So if you want to bid on a four star hotel in Buckhead, you actually have 15 free re-bids in the zones with no 4 star offerings, at no risk. If you’re willing to pay up to $90, for example, start out with a $45 low-ball offer, and then move up in $3 increments each time your bid is rejected, adding a “safe” zone each time.

Bid 1: 4 star, Buckhead- $45
Bid 2: 4 star, Buckhead, Druid Hills, $48
Bid 3: 4 star, Buckhead, Druid Hills, Forest Park, $51

And so on. If you strike out getting the 4 star hotel and are willing to move down to 3.5 stars, you start all over again, and, based on this example have 12 free re-bids on “safe” zones that have no 4 star or 3.5 star hotels. This can be time consuming, but I’ve gotten some incredible deals using this method, which has been explained on other sites as well, including the Westin Atlanta North at Perimeter Center for $55, the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing for $45, and the Marriott Toronto Airport for $48, to name just a few.Do your homework

If you’re the kind of person who hates Priceline’s element of surprise- you never know exactly what hotel you’ll get until after you enter your credit card information- do some research on sites like Bidding for Travel and Better Bidding to find out what you might get. Bidders post successful and unsuccessful bids in the forums and the sites also features lists of reported hotels in the different zones in many cities around the world. Don’t assume that these lists are comprehensive- I’ve gotten hotels that aren’t on these lists, but they are useful to give you an idea of what you might get. A new site, Bidding Traveler, allows you to enter a low-ball bid and a final offer and then advises you on an optimal bidding strategy based upon recent accepted and rejected bids on Priceline.

Still nervous?

One other tool travelers might want to be aware of involves a glitch on the Priceline site I read about in a forum on, regarding credit card security codes. Priceline requires bidders to enter their credit card information before they bid, but the glitch is that the system reportedly allows unsuccessful bids to go through with an incorrect security code. Only if your bid is accepted will it prompt you to correct your security code.

Practically, this glitch provides some good intel. For example, let’s say your $50 bid was rejected, but you try again at $70, with an additional zone or reduced stars, and the system prompts you to correct your security code. That means they want to accept your $70 bid. But perhaps you have some free re-bids and would rather try again at $60, knowing you can always come back to $70 and get your room.

After your bid is accepted

Some hotels practice a sort of informal discrimination against travelers who book via third party sites like Priceline, by giving them the least desirable rooms. In order to try to avoid this, call the hotel as soon as your bid is accepted. Express your room preference and give them your frequent guest number. Some chains won’t give you points on a Priceline stay, but some will, if not always for the room, then at least for other incidental charges you might accrue while staying at the property.

If you have any kind of status at that chain, they are a lot less likely to shaft you just because you booked on Priceline, and even if you haven’t signed up for that hotel’s frequent stay program before, it’s usually worth your time to do so before arrival, since those with no status tend to get last choice of rooms.

Using Priceline for rental cars and flights

I’ve also had some success using Priceline for rental cars, sometimes scoring rides for as little as $12 per day before taxes and fees. There is no free re-bid system but you can start at the luxury or premium level and work your way down to economy or compact. I’ve found that in practice, most rental companies will allow you to upgrade if you bid on a small car and decide you want something different, assuming they have the category of vehicle you want.

I’ve been less successful using Priceline to book flights. I’ve only tried it twice and both times I wasn’t happy with the itinerary I got. I used it to book a flight from Chicago to London and ended up with a long layover in Cincinnati. The second and last straw for me was a Chicago- New York flight that departed at 6 A.M. and had a long layover. For international flights, you can depart at any time midnight-midnight on your proposed date and for domestic, you’ll travel between 6 A.M. and 10 P.M. I’m a big fan of non-stop flights that leave well after the start of the Today show, so Priceline does’t really work for me on flights.

Priceline not for you?

If Priceline still seems a bit too risky for you, you might consider trying a new site called BackBid. The site allows travelers to post their existing reservation and then invites other hotels to try to beat it. I’m not very risk averse and I love Priceline, so I haven’t tried it yet. If you have, let us know how you made out in the comments section, and happy bidding.

Image via Flickr, Loren Javier.

Auctioning a family heirloom for a cause: With this Ring Project

It’s true that it takes very little to make a difference in people’s lives. A few thousand dollars could either cover a fraction of an American wedding, or stretch pretty far in philanthropic work in places like Nepal, Mexico, or Ecuador.

Or in this case, both at once.

Starting January 1st, a serious blind-the-wedding-party diamond ring is going up for bid on With This Ring‘s website for five weeks. The project’s founder, Chris Ammon, inherited it – but as beautiful as it is, it’s not her style.

What’s a philanthropic gal of the world to do? Chris is auctioning it off and donating the money to eight international grassroots projects that she’s personally been touched by — including quilt making in Nepal that helps send kids to school, veterinary assistance in Mexico, and schooling for low-income children in Ecuador.

If you’re in the market for a ring, this is one for the record books – a platinum setting, with an emerald-cut 2.75 ct. main diamond and smaller diamonds on the side. Its estimated value is $22,000.

You can place your own bid for the ring on the website’s blog until February 7th.

Galley Gossip: Airline seniority, bidding & working undesirable trips

Dear Heather,

Since when do you have Oklahoma City layovers? Heather, Heather, Heather……I’ve always envisioned you as A View From The Top, Transcon, 767, New York to LA Princess. It’s really hard for me to picture you on a Super80 Oklahoma City two-day. What gives?

Yours truly,

Ron “The frequent-flyin, two-timin cheat

PS Did Miss Oklahoma really sit in economy?

PSS Did your dress really rip because of that leap out of the crew van, I mean…. well, we ALL now know what you had for breakfast that day! LOL!

Dear Ron,

Ya just had to go and bring up the Cracker Barrel, didn’t you! Thanks a lot. It’s official, I’m now on a diet. As for Miss Oklahoma, not only did the lovely Miss Taylor Treat sit in economy, she sat in a middle seat! Not once did she complain about it, either. I know who I’m going to vote for in the upcoming Miss America pageant!

I completely understand why you might be disappointed to learn I’m not the transcon princess you’ve dreamt about. From time to time I really do bid for Oklahoma City / El Paso / Nashville / Kansas City layovers. I know it’s hard to believe, but It’s kind of nice to shake things up. No matter how great a trip may be, after awhile it gets boring knowing what passengers are going to say before they even say it and only stocking the beverage cart with diet soda, club soda, bottled water, and extra limes when flying back and forth from New York to LA. Anyway, ya gotta do what ya gotta do to hold the holidays off. My Oklahoma City layover was just the price I had to pay to spend Thanksgiving at home with family.

SENIORITY – Refers to a flight attendants years of experience. Years of experience with an airline is based on date of hire. Seniority is everything at an airline. It determines what trips a flight attendant can “hold” and whether or not a flight attendant will serve reserve.

I have fifteen years seniority at my airline, which isn’t much considering many flight attendants have forty – plus years with the company. That’s why I commute from my home in Los Angeles (one of our most senior bases in the system) to New York (our most junior base). In New York I can hold great trips. More importantly, I’m off reserve.

BID, BIDS, BIDDING – a request of choice routes made by each flight attendant to fly specific monthly schedules. At the airline I work for, our bid sheet offers over hundreds of lines to choose from. Bids are awarded by company seniority. Ever wonder why the flights to Asia and Europe are staffed by our most senior crew members? Because it takes a lot of seniority to hold the best trips!

Each month I bid for the exact same trips: San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Dallas turns. Normally I’m awarded one of my top ten choices. But during a holiday month every flight attendant is trying to get the exact same days off, so I’ll bid a few “undesirable” trips just in case I can’t hold what I want. And that, Ron, is how I wound up with Oklahoma City layovers in November.

This month I got lucky. I’m off on Christmas eve, Christmas day, and New Year’s Eve! Of course it came at a price, a very steep one – a line of turns on the 757, and not just any line of turns, but a line of New York-Vail turns. I shudder just thinking about it. I mean what could possibly be worse than working a full 757 crammed with 160 passengers who all think they belong in first class. Not bad enough? Now imagine all those full length fur coats that MUST be hung at once in a closet barely big enough to house the coats and jackets belonging to those who are actually seated in first. And that’s just the beginning. We haven’t even taken off yet! But I’ll be home for Christmas and that’s all that matters.

Not to worry, Ron, things will be back to normal in January.

Happy Travels,


Photos courtesy of Heather Poole & Jennifer Pickens

Own the Curtis Hotel in Denver for one night

The Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver is not your typical hotel. Staying here is all about having fun. And what could be more fun than owning an entire hotel, even if only for one night?

Through its Won Night Only promotion, the Curtis is offering up the whole hotel for one night – December 31, 2009 – to the highest bidder.

Up for grabs is a package that includes occupancy of each of the hotel’s 330 rooms (2 people per room, max), including the Rolling Stone suite and the British Invasion suite. The winner, and about 600 of his or her closest friends, will also enjoy a rock-star worthy New Year’s Eve bash with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, dinner, drinks, late night munchies, live music, the services of a DJ and a professional photographer, and limo service.

The current high bid on eBay is $50,000 (but the undisclosed “reserve” has not been met). Bidding ends on October 11, 2009.

While I’ve never seen a promotion quite like this, it fits right in with the style of the Curtis. The guest rooms themselves are sleek and luxurious, but the rest of the hotel is decked out in whimsical touches that appeal to the kid in each guest.


Each floor has a theme that’s evident in quirky touches like movie posters and colorful silhouettes decorating the wall. Guests can stay on the “dance floor”, a scary movie floor (appropriately located on floor 13) or other floors themed around pop culture. Each room has a flat screen tv, iPod dock, and free wireless internet.

There’s a fitness center, 24/7 business center, and the lobby features a kitschy “five and dime” that sells classic candy. The lobby also has a Wii system and classic board games for guest use and is decorated with Lite-Brite art . Even the bathrooms are a surprise, with silly sayings painted on the stall doors.

The hotel restaurant, The Corner Office, serves an eclectic menu that’s reasonably priced (the $15 lobster macaroni and cheese is delicious, with big chunks of lobster meat, and the $3.50 desserts like peanut butter crepes and espresso creme brulee are worth every calorie). The Curtis also accepts pets with a $15 daily fee.

Own a piece of Paris: Eiffel Tower stairs, other artifacts up for auction

Want to own a piece of Paris? You’ll have a chance when historic pieces of the City of Lights go up for grabs on December 14. At the “Paris Mon Amour” (Paris My Love) sale, 18th century tourists maps, antique street benches, and a public phone box from the 1950’s will be sold at auction along with street lamps from the Champs Elysees and a staircase from the Eiffel Tower.

The 40-step section of stairs from the Paris landmark is is just one piece of the original staircase and is expected to fetch €60,000 to €80,000. The Tower’s steps were removed during a renovation in 1983, cut into 24 parts, and sold to collectors around the world. Since then, they’ve been on the auction block only a few times, most recently in 2007 and 2008. The company that manages the Eiffel Tower oversees each auction and apparently, they don’t want pieces of the Tower changing hands too often.

I couldn’t find much information on how to get in on the auction action. But chances are, if you’ve got the cash to drop on stairs from the Eiffel Tower, you’ve also got connections that can get you in.

The auction is part of the celebration of Paris’ 120-year anniversary, which took place this year. Other events scheduled throughout the year included special fireworks displays and exhibits of photos that chronicled the history of the structure.