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If you understand how to work within the limitations of Priceline, you can save massively on your hotel stays.

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How to Book Hotels for the lowest rate through Priceline.com

Save massively by following these guidelines
 

Whether you're staying for business or pleasure, if you book your hotel through Priceline you could massively save on the cost of your hotel stay.

Part 1 of a series on How to book hotels at the lowest price on Priceline - please also visit

1.  An introduction to Priceline
2.  How much to bid
3.  How to rebid in less than 24 hrs
4.  The true cost of a Priceline bid

 

 

Bidding for hotel stays on Priceline can get you better values than any other way of booking hotel rooms.

The trade-off is that you don't know what hotel you will get, and you don't know what the best rate to bid is.

But if you follow the suggested steps below, you'll know much more before you commit yourself to a bid, and be able to bid much lower, giving you more comfort up front and better rates for your hotel stays.

What Priceline Is and Does

Priceline has evolved over time, and these days there are two sides to its service.

The first side is a traditional website travel booking service, and this is very similar to other websites such as Orbitz and Expedia.  It warrants no further discussion.

The unique second side to Priceline is its 'Name Your Own Price' service.  This applies to airfares, rental car bookings, and hotel reservations.  In this article, we consider the hotel part of Priceline's service and how to get outstanding bargains when booking hotels through their service.

Stated simply, Priceline allows hotels to sell their rooms, on a semi-secret basis, at lower rates than they otherwise would or could, by offering them for sale to you in an innovative way where you only find out the hotel you have booked after you've paid for it.

Priceline also imposes stricter terms and conditions on bookings, but in return for the stricter terms/conditions, and not knowing up front what hotel you'll get, you have a chance to get hotels for much less than normal price.

Which hotels can be booked through Priceline

No-one knows exactly which hotels use Priceline at any time and which hotels do not.

I've seen just about all the major chains (such as Hilton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Marriott, Renaissance, Sheraton, Westin) plus smaller regional hotel groups and individual unaffiliated hotels all appear in winning bids.

But the hotel you'll get when your bid is accepted - that is anyone's guess (unless you're bidding in an area with only one participating hotel).

However these two websites have moderately accurate and moderately up to date lists of hotels that have been known to be sold through Priceline  - BetterBidding.com and BiddingForTravel.com.  This gives you some information, but do understand that some of the hotels on their lists may no longer be available through Priceline, and - vice versa - some hotels not on their lists may now be available.

The Pluses and Minuses of Using Priceline

Priceline is deliberately designed so as not to appeal to all travelers all the time.  If Priceline was a 100% solution for all people and all travel needs, then no-one would ever pay full price for a hotel room.  So, just like airlines add restrictions to narrow the appeal of their lowest fares, so too does Priceline necessarily have some 'swings and roundabouts' so as to limit its appeal.

Plus = Price

The biggest plus of course is you're getting a hotel room for - potentially - less than half the rate you'd find it anywhere else.

But please note the stress on the word 'potentially'.  There is no guarantee that you'll get a room at all on Priceline, and if you do get a room, there is no guarantee it will be for less than full price.  In November 2010 I attempted to book a room through Priceline for a four night stay in Hong Kong, and after getting all my bids from $85 up to $140/night refused, I ended up directly booking a very nice hotel (Butterfly on Wellington) directly for $134/night.

This is actually more than a $6 differential, because Priceline adds a profit margin of its own to your bid price.

The potential for a cost saving is not only the biggest plus for Priceline; it is also the only plus.  All the other considerations are minuses to some degree or another.

Minus = Can't choose a hotel

The biggest minus factor, if you bid for a hotel room on Priceline, is that you don't know what hotel you might get, or where it will be.

Sure - that sounds like a huge minus, doesn't it.  But it isn't as bad as it sounds.  While you can neither specify the hotel you want to stay at, nor can you specify any hotels you do not want to stay at, you can specify the star/quality category of the hotel you wish, and that reasonably takes care of quality controlling your stay.

Minus = Location imprecision

As for the location, generally Priceline will divide a city or destination area into smaller zones, so you can specify in which part of the city you wish to stay.

For example, if you wanted to stay in New York city, you would have a choice of 12 different zones that you could select (or not select) within which hotels would be offered to you - ten on Manhattan itself, and two more adjacent (Brooklyn and Long Island City).  There are additional zones going further out from there (such as Newark or Westchester County).

The size of a zone varies - using New York city as an example again, the smallest zone is the Times Square/Theatre District zone, which covers a small area from W 42nd St up to W 51st St, and from 6th Ave to 8th Ave.  Other zones can be much larger, and all are displayed on a helpful map so you know exactly what part of town each zone covers.

So while there is some degree of imprecision about choosing a hotel's location, you can still exercise a certain degree of choice, and if you are choosing the best hotel categories, you can be reasonably certain that an upmarket hotel will be of course reasonably well situated.

Minus = No frequent flier/guest credit

A small minus is that you probably won't get any credit for your stay added to any frequent guest/flier program.

Minus = No perks if you're a premium level frequent guest member

In theory, if you're a premium/elite member of the hotel's frequent guest program, you won't get any of the perks or free upgrades you'd normally get.

It seems that Marriott may be an exception to this rule, and of course, when you're checking in, you should always show your membership card if you are a premium member of any hotel's program - it might not get you everything you'd get if paying full price, but it might get you some sort of halfway level of perks.

Minus = Pay up front and no cancel/changes allowed

One other possible issue is that you have to pay for your hotel stay immediately.  If you subsequently wish to cancel or change the dates of your stay, you're out of luck.  Your entire booking is non-refundable and unchangeable.  You 'use it or you lose it'.

Minus = Can't request special room types/features

Maybe it is very important for you that you get a non-smoking room (or, for that matter, a smoking room).  Maybe there are two of you staying in the room and you want to have specific bedding - one large bed or two separate beds.

You can't specify any of these issues when making your bid, or make any other types of special requests.  All you can do is directly make such requests to the hotel after you've bought and paid for the room (best to do this before you arrive), but if the hotel can not or will not help you with your request, you can't ask for a refund back from Priceline.

Minus = Can't book multiple rooms for different dates

The good news is you can book multiple rooms (up to as many as nine) for exactly the same arrival and departure dates, but if you want to have one room for perhaps two nights and a second room for three nights, you can't do this.

Sure, you could try first doing the booking for three nights, then making an identical second booking for two nights, but there is a slight risk you might end up with two bookings at two different hotels.

Neutral = Hotel upgrades

This is probably a 'plus' for most people - if you select a grade of hotel, Priceline reserves the ability to provide you with a hotel in that category or in any higher category.  It is a nice thought that you might get a 'free' upgrade to a better hotel.

On the other hand, if you're trying to carefully limit the hotels you do or don't get placed in, this feature makes it harder for you to control which hotels you might end up finding yourself staying at.

Who Should Use Priceline

After having read the preceding section on the pluses and minuses of Priceline, you probably are starting to get a feeling for if Priceline and its terms/conditions is a good choice for you or not.

Priceline has been designed to not appeal to corporate travelers, but in actuality, even business travelers can find Priceline offers great deals.  The biggest downsides to Priceline are

  • You can't choose the hotel you stay at, and you must accept the hotel Priceline finds for you.

  • You can't change or cancel your stay (but sometimes you can extend it).  You pay the full cost of the hotel stay up front and it is non-refundable.

If you might need to change or cancel your booking, Priceline could be a mistake.  But if/when you can commit to your travels, consider first the minuses above, and if they're not deal breakers, then a Priceline booking might be your best choice.

Priceline is good if you understand and accept their rules

So, if you can live with these two challenges, maybe Priceline is a good choice.  Some people dislike Priceline, and some have complained vociferously about it, even to the Better Business Bureau.  But these are almost always people who chose to not understand what Priceline does and how.  Typically, they objected to finding that the bid they voluntarily made was accepted and that they couldn't then withdraw the bid.

As long as you understand the issues up front (and Priceline makes all their terms and conditions obvious - all you have to do is read them!), you should have no problems with Priceline.

Best for 3 and 4 star hotels

Because a 50% saving on a $200/nt hotel room is more valuable than a 50% saving on a $50/nt hotel room, Priceline works best if you're wanting to stay at a reasonably good hotel.

If you're looking for the very cheapest hotel, you'll find that the Priceline savings are necessarily smaller, and the trade-offs may be greater.  Let's face it - most four star hotels are reliably good, and none are really bad, but if you're looking for a budget motel, you might find yourself at a property that isn't what you were hoping for if you just have to accept Priceline's choice.  Better then to carefully pick and choose the hotel from other more traditional information and booking sources.

Another perspective here could be that the saving in cost you'll get through Priceline will more than pay for one or more stars of upgraded hotel quality.

Better for shorter stays

Hotels typically have a combination of some nights with lots of empty rooms and some nights when they're more full.  A short stay of one or two (or three) nights gives you a better chance of finding a hotel with low rates for all the nights you need than is the case with a longer stay.

If a hotel has a higher rate for even only one of the multiple nights you need, then Priceline can not give you a blended rate, with some nights low and some high - instead it will set all nights at the highest possible rate.

So in general, the longer your hotel stay, the higher the nightly rate may be.  There is one rare exception to this - hotels that have lower rates for eg full week stays, but for most of us, we'll find Priceline works best for shorter stays.

Read more in the rest of this series

This is part 1 of a series on How to book hotels at the lowest price on Priceline - please also visit

1.  An introduction to Priceline
2.  How much to bid
3.  How to rebid in less than 24 hrs
4.  The true cost of a Priceline bid

 

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 14 Aug 2009, last update 08 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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