01 of 10
Choose a location in your desired destination
Better bidding on a Priceline name-your-own-price hotel room starts with a fairly narrow geographic definition of where you want to stay.
This is the view from a hotel room I booked in Chicago. It is located directly on Michigan Ave. But some budget travelers prefer staying in the suburbs and using Chicago's excellent mass transportation system. Others just look for a good price anywhere and attend to the logistics later.
Are you someone who likes to keep options open as you consider hotel choices? If so, Priceline probably isn't your best option.
Operations such as Priceline offer up unnamed properties within a certain zone. Generally, the larger the city, the more zones will be offered. While it's acceptable to bid on multiple zones, at some point in the process you'll have to commit to a fairly narrow area.
Remember, once you place a bid and it is accepted, you have a binding contract with Priceline for that room and your credit card will be charged with very little... hope of a refund should you decide later you'd rather be downtown than in the suburbs. Only use Priceline when you're ready to make a non-refundable commitment.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
02 of 10
Select your city and dates for travel
So you've decided you're definitely going to land in this city, and you're ready to make a non-refundable payment on a hotel room, right? If not, go back and read step one again.
Priceline will ask you to enter the city and your dates for travel as you start your session. Those dates are very important--you're stuck with them once your non-refundable deal is final. Any careless mistakes will cost you, and they are easily made.
Are your travel dates somewhat flexible? If so, it could work to your advantage here. Unsuccessful bidders are asked to change at least one variable -- either the zone for the hotel, the star-level (quality) of the hotel or dates of travel -- and bid again immediately. In other words, you can change the dates for your trip within the same bidding session if you wish. Sometimes, it works to your advantage to do so.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
03 of 10
Select "Name Your Own Price" and Choose a Zone
The initial pages on Priceline will show you hotels in your desired city. In Orlando, a recent search turned up 445 hotels. These are priced at rates that may or may not be lower than what you can find booking directly with the hotels or some other company.
If you're ready to assume the risks of bidding for a room with the intent of securing a deeper discount, you'll want to move past this broad search page and click the words "Name Your Own Price." Those four words have been copyrighted by Priceline--it is their branding for the bidding section of their website.
Once you arrive there, the terms of Priceline bidding are in effect. You name the price. If accepted, the bid is immediately charged to your credit card.
Let's say you want to stay near the airport. Look for the appropriate zone and click the little box next to it. This action reveals new information that you'll put to work in the next step.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
04 of 10
Choose a star-level for your stay
Clicking your desired zone will reveal the star-levels available from within Priceline's inventory for that area. In other words, there might be a four-star, highly desirable property in your chosen zone, but Priceline might not be marketing their rooms. The same could be said of any other hotel, too.
Star-levels that aren't available in your zone will be grayed out, while the available zones will have hyperlinks that lead to descriptions of what to expect at that level of quality. You will not click these links and discover the names of the hotels.
Let's say you've decided you'd like to stay within a range of levels between four-star and 2.5-star, because each level is available in your chosen zone. The next step will show you how to get (in some cases) new opportunities to bid by going after star-levels that don't exist in other zones.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Survey Star-Level Options for All Zones
Better bidding depends upon your accurate survey of star-level options in the other zones. This could take several minutes if you're bidding in a big city, or just a few seconds in smaller places. But it must be done before you enter your first bid.
Make note of zones that do not offer the same star-level(s) on which you intend to bid. Don't worry about the location of these zones. You won't be staying in any of them.
Let's continue with our Orlando example. The airport zone (at this writing) included 3.5-star and three-star bidding options. The Winter Park zone (again, at this moment in time) only had options for one-star and two-star properties--nothing higher than that.
Why is this important if you have no intention of staying in Winter Park? Because you can safely click that zone when you re-bid, so long as you do not add one-star or two-star zones in your airport zone bidding.
Remember: Your bidding session on a given day continues only as long as you can make one more... change in your offer, but that change need not be a higher price. You can change dates, zones and star-levels. In the Orlando example here, I found a total of four possible re-bids. If my fourth offer is rejected, I'll have to wait 24 hours to start a new session for Orlando.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
06 of 10
Prepare to open several new browser windows alongside your Priceline window. Your first window is going to help you find out about possible hotels in your zone. Then, you're going to attempt to find out what other people have bid in those zones and what hotels they received when successful.
Notice the word "attempt." This is not exact science. Priceline's inventories change constantly.
But there are frequent patterns to explore, and Priceline users have posted their experiences on a number of bulletin-board style websites, including BetterBidding.com and BiddingForTravel.com. Travelers post information as a convenience. As with any posting wall on the Internet, accuracy is not guaranteed.
But both of these sites keep a list of hotels that have shown up in most zones and star-levels. Look for your desired zone and make a few notes. On another page, you'll be able to see what bidders have paid for those hotels.
It can't be emphasized enough: The prices paid by other... bidders may or may not relate to what you'll have to pay today, and the hotels that were on Priceline recently might not be there now. No guarantees here, only possible patterns.
So long as we're clear on that, we can proceed to the next step, which is checking on the hotels fitting the bidding pattern.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
07 of 10
More About Potential Hotels
If a few hotels seem to turn up all the time in a given star-level and zone, it's likely they've used Priceline on a regular basis. Check the dates of the postings. Are they fairly recent? If so, find the hotel's website and check rates for the dates of your trip. You can't know you're getting a deal until you know the starting price, right?
Next, check to see if a few of the most commonly purchased hotels are fighting bad reputations. There are hotel review sites such as TripAdvisor where people post comments following their stays. Take these comments with a healthy dose of skepticism. A few bad reviews don't mean much, especially if more than one year old. Thirty recent bad reviews that each repeatedly cite the same problems are worthy of your attention.
Done? The next step is placing your bid!Continue to 8 of 10 below.
08 of 10
Place Your Bid
Armed with all of this better bidding knowledge, you are now ready to enter your Priceline hotel bid. There are many strategies for using the data you've collected on previous bids and regular prices. If you're in a hurry and don't have days to re-bid, you might want to enter a price substantially higher than the other successful bids and but less than the standard rate.
If you have some time and don't mind repeating the bidding process over several days, take at least one shot at a bid well below the previous successful prices.
The reason yesterday's bid won't necessarily work today is that market forces drive the process. Is there a convention in town this week? If so, the hotel might not want Priceline to accept very low bids on its behalf. That $48 bid two weeks ago is not even close to a winner today. You might need $78 to be successful now. The reverse also could be true.
Priceline will tell you the "average" cost of a room in that zone and... star-rating. It's best to ignore that amount. In my experience it is usually inflated.
Before you click "buy my hotel room now," note that a bid of $48 USD is going to be more like $61 when your credit card is charged. Priceline adds taxes and service fees to the base bid, but they will show you this before you make that all-important click.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
There are two kinds of Priceline rejections. One simply says "no" to the money you offered and urges you to re-bid. The other is a sort of counter-offer that urges you to increase the current bid to a suggested amount.
In my experience, it's almost always best to reject the counter-offer and re-bid.
Here's where those careful notes about what's available in each zone will pay off for you. If you re-bid, add new zones that don't have star-levels above what you're seeking.
Expect to receive an email from Priceline each time you fail. It will urge you to try again and provide a hyperlink for that purpose.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
10 of 10
As the time for your visit approaches, you should give the hotel a brief phone call. If it's a chain (and most Priceline hotels are), don't call the corporate toll-free number. Call the front desk of the hotel and be certain they know you've pre-paid your reservation and you'll indeed be arriving on the reserved date.
Now is the time to make any special requests, but realize that the hotel is not obligated to do much more than give you a room suitable for two guests. Travelers with specific needs beyond that description could face disappointment.
But many of the better hotels will work with you. Need two beds? Many times, they'll make a note of it and give you such a room if at all possible. Sometimes, they'll reject it. Once in a great while, they'll be rude about it and force you to complain.
Remember, your room is discounted. They'll take care of people paying premium prices first. But sometimes, they can work out your request without denying preferences... to anyone else. Always ask promptly to avoid problems later.