I needed a room for two nights in midtown Manhattan, where the average room rate hovers at about $300/night. I needed to be close to offices just off of Times Square, the heart of New York's busiest tourist area.
I could have booked a typical New York two- or three-star room with a few quirks and stayed under that $300/night average. But the organizers of my business conference introduced an interesting wrinkle: they offered an excellent group rate of $259/night at a nearby four-star hotel. Four-star rooms usually cost quite a bit more than $300/night.
Before booking that deal, I felt compelled to at least try Priceline's "name your own price" option. In that situation, you make offers by geographic zone and by star level quality on properties that aren't revealed unless your non-refundable bid is accepted.
Six weeks prior to the trip, I used sound Priceline bidding strategy to beat that nightly $259 rate on a four-star hotel. See how it unfolded.
Priceline Hotel Deal: The Bidding
As I searched for my Priceline hotel deal, I knew the odds were slim of landing something less than the $259/night group rate I'd been offered. I looked at the standard nightly rack rate for the four-star category in midtown Manhattan and found room prices in the $400-$500 range.
You can get a sense of the hotel names offered in these categories by accessing hotel lists for New York at BetterBidding.com.
Next, I opened the "name your own price" section on Priceline, where I found 21 New York City bidding zones (excluding New Jersey and the airport areas in Queens). Not all of those zones offer four-star hotels. So I can safely rebid by adding those zones -- many of which I do not want to stay in -- with no danger of landing there so long as I keep the star level setting at four-star.
It's simple enough to go through the zones and see which ones lack four-star properties. Make note of them. There are two out of the 21 that offer 3.5-stars as the best level of quality. My desired zone, Times Square/Theater District, offers five-, 4.5- and four-star options at the top of the list.
So I can bid three times on just the Times Square zone before I have to add zones without at least a four-star hotel. That means I'll have five bids before I have to wait another 24 hours and start again.
Next, I set my top price at $240, which is about $20/night less than the group rate I had been offered. If I'm going to give up my choice of properties, I want to save at least $20/night.
I started the bidding at $165 and worked my way up with each rebid in $10 increments. At the end of the first day, I reached $215 with no success.
The second bidding day brought five more chances. On the first two attempts for five-star and 4.5-star rooms in the TImes Square zone, I bid my maximum $240 each time and failed twice.
When I reached the four-star level, I raised the previous day's $215 bid to $225 and landed the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Times Square, just one block from the meeting. The total cost for two nights, taxes included, was $559.
Next, see how that compared to standard rates.
Priceline Hotel Deal: The Results
At the outset, please understand that my Priceline bidding experience reflects a moment in time when market conditions led to these results. Your results could be better or worse, and most likely, not identical to mine.
My Priceline hotel deal took me to the Marriott Marquis. The $559 total cost for two nights, taxes included, is only slightly more than the standard rack rates for one night at the hotel, which at the time was $479/night when prepaid, and $519/night when paid at time of arrival.
I arrived at the front desk at about 10:15 a.m. and found a long line. I expected to store my luggage and receive a room assignment later in the day.
But by 10:30, the staff found a room for me on the 37th floor. The view was limited by a nearby building, but I could see a small part of Times Square and the Hudson River from my room.
The hotel is in the heart of the Broadway district, and I could walk to a number of popular theaters within about five minutes of the hotel lobby.
The room was large -- by Manhattan standards -- and relatively quiet. The walls are thin, which means sometimes you'll hear conversations in adjoining rooms.
WiFi connections are available here for $15-$18/day. If you plan to use a 4G hotspot connection, beware: I found the reception in my room to be weak most of the time.
There is no free breakfast, but that was not a concern since I received free meals at the conference. Dozens of restaurants, in a variety of price ranges, are within a few blocks of the hotel.
Next, consider some additional tips used to make this trip affordable.
Priceline Hotel Deal: More Tips
In big cities such as New York, always make certain your Priceline hotel deal lands you in an area well-served by public transportation. Again, pay attention to the lists of possible hotels at BetterBidding.com and other such sites. They aren't always fully accurate, because the Priceline inventory changes frequently. But you can determine whether there's a chance that some of the potential properties are in isolated locations.
The Marriott Marquis is within a short walk of the MTA station at 42nd and 7th, from which I could catch trains to a variety of places.
Hotels such as the Marriott Marquis offer in-room checkout. Simply tune your television to the appointed channel, and then use the remote control to finish the stay. It beats waiting in a long line in the reception area.
Not interested in a Priceline bid? Make a conventional hotel booking in New York.