Priceline's Name-Your-Own-Price Model for Budget Travel

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Priceline bidding in the "name your own price" category won't fit every travel situation. But there are times when it pays to be a budget traveler. 

Priceline is perfect for the situations when you want to low-ball a downtown hotel and steal away a room at half-price. It would be far easier if you knew what bids have been successful for that particular zone and class of hotel in the recent past, but Priceline's policy does not allow such revelations. The basis of Priceline's deal with vendors is anonymity.

How It Works

Most of these sites are organized by state and city. Bigger more touristy cities are visited more often, so you may notice entries from several Priceline winners who had snagged downtown rooms in three-star operations for an extremely low cost.

Sometimes when you place a bid on Priceline, you'll get a warning that your bid is too low. The advisory says something to the effect that Priceline wants you to be successful, so it would be wise to "increase your original offer price." You can decide whether you want to keep your low bid or bid again for a higher price. The results may vary, but if you believe in the bargain, stay with your low bid.

"Name Your Own Price" Details

Priceline takes your credit card number before bidding. If they find a service at the price you set, the transaction is billed to your account. No refunds.

You don't get a choice of flights, hotels, etc. It all hinges on where Priceline can match your bid.

Processing charges and taxes can add 20 percent to your total. Parking fees, energy fees, and other add-ons aren't included, either.

If your first bid is unsuccessful, you'll have to revise your amount and choose other variables — such as location or star-level (quality) — on the next attempt. If you're unable to do so, you'll have to wait 24 hours to try again.

With hotels, all you get is a room. For example, requests for non-smoking rooms or two beds will be considered, but the hotel is under no obligation to provide anything beyond a room with a bed.

BiddingForTravel.com is the best-established of the sites posting secret bids. They offer help with airfares, car rentals, hotels and vacation packages. There are literally thousands of posts, helpful FAQs, and a section for reporting glitches in the system.

BetterBidding.com is another site with lots indexed bidding histories. It offers Hotwire and Priceline information.

Priceline's Take

One of the first rules of good salesmanship is to never reveal your lowest price. Those secrets are the basis of Priceline's success since its start in 1998. Swanky hotels don't want you to know they'll take your reservation at $50/night when they usually receive three times that amount.

Priceline may tolerates these insider websites because of the amount of exposure they provide. So, you can expect these bid-revealing sites to increase alongside Priceline. Use them wisely.

A Checklist

Start by checking the going rate through the sites of major airlines, hotels, car rental firms, etc. (Expedia and Travelocity are helpful for this research.)

For hotels, survey a few four-star properties, then move down to some three-stars or even two-stars (nice rooms, no gift shop in the lobby).

Next, go to the bulletin boards to look at successful (and unsuccessful) bids, then act accordingly.

Realize that because someone got a given room/flight/car rental at a certain price last week, you are NOT guaranteed a similar result tomorrow. Economic conditions change with holidays, travel seasons, world events, and other variables.

Be patient. If you have several months with which to work, don't be too quick to bid a high amount or lower the quality rating.

It's possible to pay half-price for a Manhattan hotel room using Priceline, but remember your results will vary. Sometimes, you'll beat that standard. Other times, you might scramble to earn a small discount. Exercise patience and savvy.

Happy hunting!