I am a Priceline whore.
I am a Priceline ninja.
I have been using Priceline for years to book rooms at hotels I otherwise couldn’t afford. Priceline’s name your own price feature allows me to indulge my champagne appetite on my RC Cola budget. I’ve stayed in a deluxe room at the 70 Park Avenue hotel in New York City for $170 a night. I’ve stayed at a 4-star hotel blocks from the Magnificent Mile in Chicago for barely more than $100 per night.
And yet, every time I suggest to a friend that they should try to name their own price on a hotel at Priceline, I get a terrified look of horror in response.
“But you don’t get to choose the hotel!”
“What if I end up in a dive?!”
“What if I have to pay for a room way out by the airport?!?”
Yes, Priceline’s name your own price feature comes with a certain amount of risk. You have to input your credit card number and agree to pay for whatever room is given to you by whatever hotel accepts your offer. There is, I admit, potential for disaster.
Unless you know what you’re doing.
How Not To Get Screwed Using Priceline To Book A Hotel
(And still save a ton of money on a fancy hotel)
1. Research neighborhoods in the city you’ll be staying in.
If you’re booking a hotel in a large metropolitan city like New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, Priceline gives you the option to choose from various neighborhoods or “areas”. Head to a site like UpTake.com and research “Things to do” so you have an intelligent idea of where the tourist attractions are that you’ll want to stay near.
Reading reviews of hotels in the neighborhoods you’re considering will give you a good idea of how safe the area is and how convenient it is to major attractions.
Then, when you go to “name your own price” on Priceline, you’ll see a map that shows the various areas available – and you’ll know which areas would be a good fit for your vacation.
2. Research prices.
The first step to getting a good deal on a hotel is to find out what everyone else is paying. Again, using a site like UpTake or Priceline’s main booking site will give you a good idea of the average price for a hotel in the areas you’re interested in staying in. Do not plan to pay the average price.
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to start the actual bidding.
3. Choose a higher star level than you’re willing to settle for.
I assume that a star rating on Priceline is overly generous. Better to go in expecting a 4-star hotel and get too much luxury, than to find out that “continental breakfast” qualifies a hotel for a 3-star rating. Just to be safe, I almost always request at least a 4-Star hotel when I’m bidding on hotels in a large city – even though my frugal princess head could surely survive a night on a 3-star pillow.
4. Start with 1 or 2 areas and give yourself room to negotiate.
The trick to getting a great deal on a great hotel on Priceline is to give yourself room to go up. If your original offer is rejected, you have to make changes to your request in order to resubmit. One of the easiest changes to make is to add more areas to your offer.
So have 3 or 4 potential areas in mind that you’d be happy to stay in if you can save hundreds of dollars – but don’t tell them that unless you absolutely have to. Your first offer should be your dream scenario.
5. Start the bidding at 50% of the average price of a hotel.
Again, the key to negotiating with a computer is to play your cards close to your vest. And I might be mixing metaphors here, but you get the idea.
There are times when you’ll get your first offer will be accepted and you can do the “Ha, ha, common folk! I scored a great deal!” happy dance.
There are also times when your offer will be rejected and Priceline will be all “are you crazy? You do know the average price of a hotel in this area is two times what you’re asking us to give you, right?” Ignore these intimidation tactics. Bid low and hope for the best. If the best doesn’t happen, you’ll have plenty of room to go up and still walk away with a great deal.
6. Have a stop loss point.
Remember all that research you did ahead of time? Let it tell you when you’re no longer getting a screaming deal that’s worth assuming the risk of letting a computer blindly pick your hotel. Saving $20 a night on a $250 room is not worth it. Saving $50 per night over a 4 night stay? Something to think about.
The bottom line is that Priceline’s name your own price feature is essentially a marketing gimmick meant to attract budget travelers. But there is real potential there, if you book wisely, to save a considerable amount of money on a great hotel.
Shoot for the Ritz and plan to end up saving a little money on the Hilton.
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