With a tanking economy and gas prices that are all over the place, families are having to scale back this year in a big way. I hear it all the time–”We just cannot afford to travel! Gas and hotel prices have gotten out of hand!” Gas prices I cannot help you with, hotel prices I can. Well…Priceline can…If you’ll just learn how to use it.
Years ago, my first experience using the “bid now” button on Priceline was a bit scary. My Aunt and Uncle were meeting me in Charleston, SC, and I’d been boasting about this new-found tool I could use to get us a cheap hotel room. They were concerned about a. getting ripped off, and b. getting stuck in a dump. I assured them neither would happen, asked them to trust me, and followed my dad’s careful instructions as I placed my first bid. When I was successful after just one offer, I was skeptical…but all skepticism got swept aside later in the day when we pulled into the gorgeous Courtyard Charleston Waterfront hotel in Charleston, SC. Ours for the incredible price of $45/night plus taxes and fees. My Uncle was convinced I was either some sort of miracle worker, or that the “catch” would get sprung on him at checkout. He was wrong on both counts. I used tools that anyone with a computer has access to, and there really was no “catch” at all.
How in the world did I manage to pull that off? It’s quite simple, I assure you. It’s a bit of a gamble, but I can offer some tips that should help you to never be disappointed, and to always have some extra cash in your pocket when traveling. One of the common complaints I hear when I talk about Priceline is that you can never guarantee getting that complimentary breakfast that so many hotels offer these days. That’s right. Some people choose to pay $80 and up for a hotel room just so they can score big on that breakfast buffet in the lobby. Never mind that they could go across the street to Cracker Barrel and spend $15-20 and still come out cheaper than what they spent on the hotel room.
There are two different ways to shop on Priceline. When you visit the site, you are immediately asked for your destination and the dates you’ll be headed to said destination. This portion of the site is much like Expedia (my second favorite site of this kind), where discount prices are offered for hotel rooms, flights, car rentals, and vacation packages. Using this portion of the site will, indeed, help you to score some pretty great prices on travel. You can scroll down just a few inches, however, and find the “name your own price” portion of the web page. This is where you can score some amazing prices on travel if you’re willing to be a little daring.
I’ll just tell you up front that the down side for some people is that once your offer is accepted, it’s a DONE deal. There’s no turning back, no refunds are given, so just be certain about your travel before you begin bidding. Another disadvantage for some is that you cannot choose your hotel. I’ll explain more about that in a minute.
To score your deal on a fabulous hotel room, click on the little green “bid now” icon in the center box that says “save up to 60% on hotels.” Enter your destination city, the dates for check-in, check-out, and the number of rooms for which you wish to bid. Click the “bid now” icon and you’ll be taken to the next page.
Step 1 asks you to choose where you wish to stay. This step is very important. You cannot choose specific locations, just areas. Be sure to study each spot carefully so that you’ll be put in the general area that you wish to stay. Step 2 asks you to choose your star level. This is key. Unless you wish to stay in a dump, do NOT choose anything less than a 3-Star Upscale setting on this step, and unless you wish to be guaranteed a hotel room that is 4-Star, you can choose 3-Star Upscale and you’ll be guaranteed to get a hotel room that is 3-Star or better. I have never had a bad experience, and I believe it’s in large part due to the fact that I’ve always chosen correctly on this step. Step 3 asks you to name your own price. Now, be reasonable here, because if your offer is denied, you have to change something about your offer AND up the price. You want to be reasonable with your offer, otherwise you’re wasting your time. The price you offer depends totally on the area to which you’re traveling. If you’re going to be visiting the oceanfront in Ft. Lauderdale, bidding $45 a night is going to be a waste of your time. I typically bid 50-60% lower than what Priceline says is the going rate for hotels in the area, and more often than not, my bids are accepted immediately.
For example, my husband and I recently visited Greenville, SC, and we wanted to stay downtown. The going rate for that area for a 3-Star and above hotel is $108 and up. So, I bid $50, and got our hotel room immediately, staying just a few miles from downtown at Hyatt Place. The hotel was absolutely beautiful, and though we weren’t staying downtown, we were just a few miles away.
After entering Step 3, you’ll be asked for your credit card information, given a list showing your total cost (including Priceline fees and taxes for the hotel room), asked to initial a box showing that you understand your purchase, and then you place your bid. Within seconds, you’ll have an answer–either your bid will be accepted, or you will have to go back to the drawing board.
I have used Priceline for securing hotel rooms, car rentals, and airline tickets, and have never had a problem. This has been a wonderful tool that has made if affordable for us to travel when it would have otherwise been financially impossible, and we’ve never paid more than $70 for a hotel. (that’s rare–our average price is $45) The trick with purchasing airline tickets is that you are not able to choose your departure time OR the airline, so it’s a bit more of a gamble than purchasing a hotel room. Often, however, it’s very worth the savings.
How can Priceline offer such great deals? It’s simple. Hotels turn to them to fill empty beds, offering significantly discounted rates without advertising what rates they’re allowing Priceline to accept. (even the hotel clerk will have no clue what you paid for your room unless you tell her) In my humble opinion, it’s crazy to pay full price for a hotel room, when sites like this are available. I encourage you to take a leap and give Priceline a try. You won’t be sorry!
Have your own Priceline story? Share it with our readers below. (whether it’s positive OR negative–we’d love to hear both)