Tips for Successful Hotel Bidding on Priceline
How Priceline can be a helpful tool for getting a great price on quality hotel accommodations
So you’ve heard the stories of how your friends got great hotel deals at rock-bottom prices by bidding on Priceline.com. It sounds great, but you’re not familiar with the system so until now you’ve not even considered Priceline as an option for booking vacation or business travel.
I used to feel the same way, but have used Priceline for years with mainly good results, and have collected some tips and information that I’ve learned along the way to get you started.
Planning and preparation
First, when planning your trip or overnight getaway, get an idea of the general lodging prices in the area where you want to stay by searching for hotel prices on some of the other online sites like Expedia and Orbitz.
Then, go to Priceline.com and select the “Hotels” tab in the “Shop for Discount Travel” section. There you can confirm the local prices by doing a standard hotel search, which will display the hotels in the city where you want to stay, by the area of the city and their star levels. Oftentimes Priceline will have a special deal with a certain hotel, and you can purchase the rooms at the hotel and price you want without having to bid and not know where you’re going to be staying.
Another advantage of doing an initial search on Priceline is to get an idea of which hotels are in the zone where you want to stay. For example, if you want to stay in East Tucson you can see that if you bid on a three-star hotel, it’s likely to be the Sheraton, the Hilton East, or the Radisson. And if one of those has a special price with Priceline, it may be more likely to accept a lower bid.
If you don’t find an acceptable deal from the initial screen, it’s time to start the bidding process for a Priceline deal. Simply click on any of the “Name your own price®” graphics and you’ll be taken to the bidding screen.
The bidding process
An important factor to be aware of is that the Priceline bidding system is a progressive process. What that means is that if your initial bid isn’t accepted, you will need to change one of the search variables – location, dates, or star level. If you chose all of the location and star level options on your first bid and the offer is rejected, then you’re out of chances and will either have to change the dates of your stay or try to find a better deal at another site.
Step 1: Choose where you want to stay
If you are looking for lodging in a large metropolitan area, a map will be displayed with several areas of the city highlighted. Select the zone where you’d like to stay – only one, your top preference for where you want to be or where you feel you will find the best deal. If you select more than one zone, for every additional area you select you will lose one round of the bidding process.
Step 2: Choose the star level for your hotel
On your initial bid, select the highest star level that is available - do not select any of the other star levels. The reason for this is that for whichever star level you choose, Priceline will automatically select any other star levels above it as well. So if you choose a 2 ½ star level on the first bidding round and that zone has three- and four-star hotels, the higher level hotels will also be included in the search, and you will also lose two chances for re-bidding on your reservation.
Step 3: Name your own price (per room night)
You’ve reviewed all of the local offerings on Priceline and other hotel booking sites and have a basic idea of the median price for star level of the hotel where you’d like to stay, so determine an initial bidding price for the zone and star level you want. I usually start at around 50 - 60 percent of the median discount price, but you can start lower. So, for example, if you want to stay in the east side of Tucson at a 2 ½ star hotel or better and the median price is $89, start your bid at $48. Or go lower if you’d like.
After entering the location, star level and price, type your name where requested and click the “next” button.
If your initial bid is extremely low for the market, Priceline may display a screen to let you know that your offer has a low chance of being accepted. You can bypass the screen, or you can return to the previous screen and re-bid. If you’re looking for a rock-bottom deal, bypass the screen. I typically do so on the first round, and would estimate that the first low bid that didn’t have much of a chance is accepted about 10 to 20 percent of the time.
The next screen will display the details of your bid and the conditions of the reservation. Review the information carefully.
You will note that Priceline tags a service fee on your bid, which when comparing final costs of paying a hotel directly (with taxes and additional charges) you can still get a great deal. Then again, the final charges may not be such a great deal, especially for not knowing where you’ll be staying. If the price isn’t acceptable, either return to the previous page to modify your bid, or consider making your reservation on another site.
Also, if you started your session searching for a hotel for certain dates, the system will include those dates with your bid information. Check the dates carefully to confirm them, and click the “back” button to change them if needed.
One thing to be aware of is that many times a hotel will accept a lower price for a multi-night stay. So where your $50 bid may not get you a successful bid for a one-night stay at that three-star hotel, it may just work if you request a room for four nights. Hotels use online reservations systems like Priceline to increase their occupancy rates and revenues, and if you’re going to give them $200 for a stay, especially during the slow season, that’s revenue they otherwise wouldn’t have realized. You can also leverage multi-room bids.
You will also have the option to purchase trip cancellation or interruption insurance for a nominal nightly fee. I’ve never used this service so I couldn’t tell you how difficult it is to cancel a reservation after you have purchased the insurance. As far as I’m concerned, if you aren’t absolutely sure that you can be at the hotel on the specified dates, you shouldn’t be booking on Priceline. If you are interested in purchasing the insurance, be sure to read the fine print.
Once you’ve confirmed that the details of your reservation bid are correct, you will be required to provide your credit card and billing address information. Keep in mind that if your bid is accepted that your credit card will be charged and you will not be able to receive a refund.
A rejected bid
If your bid is rejected, a screen will be displayed to let you know that they were unable to find a hotel willing to accept your price. At that point you will have the option to modify one of your bid options – the star level, the location zone, or the reservation dates. And in order to keep your bidding chances alive, it is important that you only change one of the bid options.
So at that point, you need to decide what is more important to you – staying in a nicer hotel, or staying in the zone that is most convenient to where you want to be. If the quality of the lodging is more important to you, then select another zone that is acceptable to you. If staying in a certain zone like the downtown area is more important to you, then choose a lower star level or change the dates of your stay.
Then, change the amount of your bid.
When you increase your offer price, don’t go a dollar at a time - bump it up by five dollars or ten dollars, an increment within the range you are willing to pay for a discount lodging reservation at a mystery hotel. Sometimes you’ll find a hotel in a different zone that will accept the price you had previously offered for a similar hotel in another zone, but typically minimal bid acceptance prices are in the same range and if you’re only incrementing your bid by a dollar or two, you’re also contracting the bid price range and in turn your chances of success.
If you are changing the star level for your bid (going to a lower level, like from a 4 star to a 3 star, consider re-adjusting your bid accordingly by lowering it. For example, if you bid $79 unsuccessfully for a three-star hotel and the only change you can make is to the hotel’s star level, you may want to lower the bid price accordingly. It seems like Priceline didn’t used to allow bidders to lower their offer price during the bidding process, but to be able to do so is an important component of the bidding process.
You’ll find that for subsequent bid requests the system will prompt you for your credit card’s CVC code and your electronic initials, so keep your credit card handy.
If after exhausting your bid chances you have not had a successful bid, forget it. Don’t feel bad, you gave it a good try to you will be able to find a great deal on another site.
A successful bid
If your bid is accepted, Priceline will display the details of your reservation along with the location, amenity and contact information for the hotel that accepted your offer. At that time, you have paid for the reservation and it cannot be changed. Rooms reserved with Priceline are typically are non-smoking and accommodate up to two people, however you can contact the hotel with any special requests (like a smoking room) and they are typically fairly flexible in accommodating such requests.
Option to extend your Priceline reservation
After your bid has been accepted, you may be offered an opportunity to extend your stay at the same bid price. This is a great way to extend your stay at the same hotel for the same bargain price, and I’ve found that typically if this option is offered then your bid for an extension will be accepted.
However, wait until you’ve arrived at the hotel before requesting this option, to make sure that you’re satisfied with the accommodations. And you will typically only be given one chance to re-bid for additional nights, and will need to select the number of nights from a pre-determined drop-down menu that typically offers up to three additional nights.
Don’t wait too long to request the other nights, because as days pass and a hotel accepts more reservations and increases its occupancy, your dirt-cheap Priceline bid becomes less appealing and your chances for getting additional nights at the same price may be reduced.
Things to remember about booking with Priceline
As Forrest Gump might say, bidding on Priceline is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get. You will have an idea of what hotel your bid may lead to, based on the area and star level, but you won’t know what hotel you’ll get until your bid is accepted.
You will be charged for the hotel when your bid is accepted.
Priceline reservations can’t be canceled or changed, so if your trip is canceled or you’re otherwise unable to arrive at the hotel, flight or rental car on the appointed date, you lose.
If you have a reservation for a multi-day stay and your travel is delayed, if you do not arrive on the first night the hotel has the option of canceling your reservation. You will need to ask (beg, plead) the hotel to honor the rest of your reserved nights, so call the hotel as soon as you become aware that you may not be able to arrive on time.
When you arrive at the hotel, you will need to present a photo ID to confirm your identity, and a credit card for incidentals.
Some hotels have extra charges for services such as parking and Internet access, although these are additional charges that you would pay regardless of where and at what price you booked the reservation.
If you happen to get a reservation at a hotel chain where you belong to their rewards program, you most likely won’t get any points for a stay booked through Priceline. It doesn’t hurt to present your membership card when you check in though – I once booked a room at a Hilton for less than half of the regular price, but when I checked in I showed them my Hilton Honors card and they gave me a voucher for free breakfasts during my stay.
And once you arrive, if you find that the room is not at the star level you reserved, contact the front desk immediately. I once booked a week in what was supposed to be a three-star room in a hotel inNew Jersey. And I reserved the room at a very inexpensive price.
When I arrived, the room I was given was a disaster – the carpeting was filthy, the room air conditioner noisy, and there was visible damage to other areas of the room and bathroom. I called the front desk to complain, saying that I realize that I was not paying much for the room, but I’d reserved a three-star room and this was clearly not even close to that level of lodging. The receptionist sent a maid to the room with another room key, on the Admiral’s level at the top of the hotel. Better than three stars, with free breakfast and evening happy hour.
In exchange for the uncertainty of not knowing which hotel you’re reserving, with some basic planning and bidding skills travelers can get great deals on lodging by bidding on Priceline. The system has its drawbacks, like not allowing changes or refunds, but if you are aware of the rules, restrictions and basic bidding practices, you can stay in a great hotel at a great price!