Which App Offers The Lowest Hotel Prices? Priceline, Tonight Or Hotel Tonight?

Finding a dirt-cheap hotel room – either at the last minute or well in advance – is an art, not a science, and I’m always looking for new tools to save money. For years, Priceline has been my go-to resource for cheap hotel rooms and rental cars because I have a system for gaming the site and it works beautifully for me.

Here’s a few examples of deals I’ve scored by bidding – not using the search function – on Priceline in the last few months.

  • Full-size rental car with Avis at LAX for a bid of $13 per day (with taxes and fees the total price came to $18.44 per day for a 9-day rental).
  • 4-star Westin Gaslamp Quarter Hotel in San Diego- $70 per night bid ($82 per night including tax and surcharges).
  • 4-star Hyatt Regency Chicago– $55 bid- ($67.66 all inclusive per night)
  • 3-star Courtyard by Marriott– Flint, MI- $50 bid ($63.25 all inclusive)
  • 3.5- star Galt House Hotel– Louisville, KY- $50 bid ($64.95 all inclusive)
  • 3-star Courtyard by Marriott, Fair Oaks, VA- $51 bid (63.94 total)

As you can see, I’ve gotten some killer deals on Priceline and I’m not really brand loyal, so I don’t mind the element of chance in bidding. But my biggest complaint with Priceline is that I sometimes get stuck with hotels that charge for Wi-Fi and have expensive parking. (If you’re looking for a list of hotels that offer free Wi-Fi click here.)

The Hyatt Regency in Chicago, for example, charges $52 per night to park, and a hotel I got on Priceline in Orange County in December charged $14 per computer per night for Wi-Fi, which works out to $28 per night for my wife and I. I almost never pay to park at the hotel I’m staying at and I’m adept at finding free parking just about anywhere, but it’s hard to get around paying for Wi-Fi, unless you can find another signal or if it’s free in the common areas.

I’ve tried other sites and apps with less than impressive results but on a recent last minute trip to Milwaukee, I decided to give two other apps, Booking.com’s Tonight and Hotel Tonight a go (the Jetsetter app doesn’t work in Milwaukee). Hotel Tonight had just four options for us, ranging from $50 at a Radisson outside the city to $189 for the ultra hip Iron Horse Hotel. But while the selection was lame, we did get a $25 credit for registering, so if we’d been up for staying at the Radisson in the suburbs, we could have snagged a hell of a good deal.

The Tonight app had almost the exact same results from a regular Priceline search (not their bidding tool) – the same hotels and the exact same prices (Hotwire, Expedia and others all tend to generate similar offers). All the downtown hotels we had our sights set on – Hilton, the Iron Horse, Residence Inn, Hilton Garden Inn and a few others were all at least $129.

So I went back to my old reliable method of bidding on Priceline, using the free rebid system, which relies on the fact that some bidding zones don’t have 4-, 3.5- or 3-star hotels. In Milwaukee, like most U.S. cities, there are several geographic bidding zones that have no 3- or 4-star hotels (you ascertain this by checking the boxes and seeing what star levels are grayed out), so I started the bidding at $35 for a 4-star hotel and after being rejected at $35 and trying again at $40, got a message stating that if I’d increase my offer to $55, I’d get my 4-star hotel.

I’ve gotten messages like these before but I never given in at this point because I figure there’s always room for an even cheaper price and usually there is. In this case, I got the 4-star Hilton City Center for a $45 bid ($59.07 total). This same hotel was on the Tonight app and in the Priceline search field at $129 not including taxes per night.

The hotel was beautiful and we even found free street parking right around the corner, which saved us $25. This is just one example, but I’ve found over and over again that there is really no substitute for bidding if you want a really low price. Some people can’t handle the element or risk or surprise, however you want to put it, but you can mitigate those risks by researching what you might get on sites like Bidding For Travel.

If you like the security of choosing your own hotel, Tonight or Hotel Tonight are worth exploring, but if you simply want the lowest rate, you are usually better off bidding.

[Photo credit: Loren Javier on Flickr]