A friend of mine asked me recently for tips on how to use Priceline. I’m a big fan of using their name-your-price service for hotels for personal travel. The advantage? I can save a LOT of money. The disadvantage? I don’t get to choose the hotel or room type, and only loosely get to choose the geographic area. I’m a bit of a control freak so that can be a challenge.
Note that there are two areas of Priceline – the full rate travel section which functions like Travelocity or Expedia, and the name-your-own-price bidding section. The site will often redirect you to the full rate section so keep track of which part of the site you’re on.
Basic Priceline: How does it work? You select a city, a zone within the city, and a class of hotel and submit a bid, naming your own price. You don’t get to choose the hotel in advance – if your bid is accepted you find out the hotel you got upon acceptance. You provide your credit card when bidding, it books when the system accepts your bid, and there are no changes and no cancellations.
This is to the hotel’s benefit because they can sell their unused inventory of rooms based upon expected occupancy. And it’s the user’s benefit because you can save a good deal of money.
There are sites that help with Priceline bidding strategy – the one I use is Bidding for Travel. The site can help with determining good bidding prices, hotels that typically come up on Priceline in a given city, and ways to rebid again within Priceline’s rules if your initial offer is declined.
Free Rebidding: When you bid on Priceline, if your bid fails, you typically have to wait 24 hours before Priceline will allow you to submit another price. However, Priceline will allow you to instantly resubmit another bid, if you loosen your requirements, for example, if you lower your star-level requirement or if you add extra regions to your bid.
Free rebidding is a technique that frequent Priceline users have developed to get the best price possible. Free rebidding strategy depends on the fact that not all Priceline “regions” contain the same distribution of hotels.
For instance, when bidding on a hotel in Seattle, Priceline will let you specify regions including Downtown/Pike Place, Seattle Center, Renton or Southcenter/Seatac. However, of these regions, only Downtown/Pike Place has a 4-star hotel affiliated with Priceline (You can check this manually on Priceline’s website or look at the lists on Bidding for Travel, but the latter is not authoritative.
A free rebid is when you add a region to your bid which is guaranteed not to change which hotels you are actually bidding on. For instance. To illustrate: Your initial bid is $75/night for a 4-star hotel in Downtown/Pike Place. You will be able to get a free rebid by adding Seattle Center to your list of acceptable regions. Since Priceline has no 4-star hotels in Seattle Center, this bid is functionally equivalent to your original bid – but Priceline will allow you to instantly submit this bid, since you have “loosened” your regional requirements.
Following this line of reasoning, and doing some research on the Bidding For Travel website, you should be put together a series of free rebids for a 4-star hotel in Seattle, such as this:
- $75/night for a 4* hotel in Downtown/Pike Place
- $80/night for a 4* hotel in Downtown/Pike Place or Seattle Center
- $85/night for a 4* hotel in Downtown/Pike Place or Seattle Center or Renton
- $90/night for a 4* hotel in Downtown/Pike Place or Seattle Center or Renton or Southcenter/Seatac
This series lets you try a sequence of bids in a row on the same region, hopefully getting you a bid that comes as close as possible to the “minimum acceptable” price that Priceline will accept. If $90 doesn’t work, you can wait 24 hours, and try again starting at $95. Of course, you can adapt the above strategy to 4-star hotels in any region by researching available hotels in that region.
Suggested Price: Priceline will often display a “suggested price” on hotels in the area you’re bidding. Disregard that – it’s usually far greater than the bid price that might be accepted. Research recently accepted bids on Bidding for Travel, or look up hotel rates on a full price travel site and start at 33-50% of the listed rate.
Priceline has also been known to very occasionally respond with a counteroffer. You don’t have to accept it – it may still not be the lowest price you can get. Many users have reported success with logging back in and using another free rebid that only increases the amount by 50-75% of the increase suggested in Priceline’s counteroffer.
Good luck – and happy traveling!