How to Use Priceline's Name Your Own Price Tool for Hotels

Berlin's Museum Island
••• (c)Mark Kahler, under an arrangement with About.com

Priceline hotel bidding isn't for everyone.

You must learn the Priceline rules. You can't choose the hotel or even the precise location in which you will stay. Still, your credit card is charged and the rate is not refundable.

You're not even guaranteed a choice of beds or smoking preference.

So why the addiction? The bargains that are possible in potentially expensive cities such as New York and Berlin.

I booked a room at Berlin's Westin Grand Hotel for $70 USD per night. I stayed in two major American cities, landing prime locations for $50 per night. During the fall season, I stayed in a business-class hotel for $34 per night.

These examples are several years old. Your results will differ and come in at higher prices. But although prices change, bidding principles remain largely the same.

When bidding, it's important to avoid common Priceline mistakes. Read through to the end of the article, and you'll find one "mistake" bid. Even there, I landed a three-star hotel in one of Europe's most visited cities for $60/night.

Let's start with the big win: Berlin's Westin Grand. Priceline bid: $70 Room rate shown on hotel website: 240 EUR (roughly $240 USD at the time of the bid). Best discount rate found: $234 Savings on Priceline: $164 USD

Impressed? Here's how I did it:

My first bid was for a five-star property at $70.

Priceline sent me a message saying this amount had "almost no chance" of acceptance. They were right. It failed.

But this is where it gets interesting.

Once a bid is rejected, you cannot bid again on the same itinerary for 24 hours. However, Priceline will allow additional rebids immediately for each change you make in either the geographical zone of the hotels or the quality level (one through five stars).

In this way, bidders can take a number of shots at what they want. Cities with four or five Priceline zones and at least a few top quality hotels afford great opportunities for these multiple attempts.

In my Berlin bidding, the Tiergarten-Ku'damm zone was attractive to me, so I chose to change the quality level first.

My second bid was also $70, but I added the four-star quality level. Now I'm saying I'll take either a four or a five. Illogical as it seems, I got the five at the same price as the previous failed bid.

Another way to beat Priceline is to add zones in which you are fairly certain high quality hotels do not exist. Click "next" and find out how this strategy landed me two excellent rooms in otherwise high-priced areas.

 

Big cities are notorious for wrecking your budget.

But I landed rooms in Chicago and Detroit at $50 USD or less. These were not far-flung locations, but prime business addresses.

First, the Raphael Hotel Chicago, one block east of Michigan Avenue at the John Hancock Center: Priceline bid: $48 Room rate shown on hotel Web site: $133 USD. Best discount rate found: $95. Savings on Priceline: $47 USD X three nights=$141

This budget hotel is in a prime location. Some reviewers on the Internet have posted bad notices, but we found it quite nice.

As an aside, never sacrifice cleanliness or safety. The two-star Raphael was both clean and safe. Their elevator is a little slow.

The lesson learned here is that although I did fairly well, I could have done even better.

The very same day as I secured the Raphael, someone posted a lower successful bid on BiddingForTravel in the same zone. They got a four-star hotel.

So on my next trip, to Detroit, I decided to set my sights on a four.

Detroit appears to have only one such Priceline client, the Westin Southfield.

Understand that there is no way to make that statement with any certainty. Priceline's inventory changes constantly.

But BiddingForTravel does a good job of tracking the changes as loyal posters send updates to the Web site.

So, I was able to bid on four-stars in some Detroit zones, knowing only one had such a property.

The idea was to get plenty of bidding tries, but it only took two.

Here, Priceline made a counteroffer. Rather than turn down the first bid of $45 USD, I was told to increase the bid to $62.

Instead, I added $5 and another zone. Priceline bid: $50 Room rate shown on hotel Web site: $97-249 USD. Best discount rate found: $81. Savings on Priceline: $31

So far, I've saved more than $300 on five nights of lodging in large cities. Click "next" and find out about some smaller cities and Priceline bidding.

The bidding drops when smaller cities are involved. Consider Birmingham, Alabama.

Here, a very nice three-star room can be had for under $40/night. A two-star can run as low as $22--maybe lower, who knows?

I know I found two rooms at the 2.5-star Courtyard by Marriott South Colonnade by bidding three times.

The first was three-star at $31. On the second, I dropped down a "half star." Such a step might not always show up in big cities.

This "in-between" class could apply to thousands of the better interstate highway hotels. In other words, you'll find no concierge, nothing fancy, but a selection of nice rooms.

In very small cities, two-stars are often the best available. They're fine places to spend the night.

I was trying for a specific hotel that happened to be a 2.5, so I added a zone rather than dropping a quality step. I didn't get my target property, but the one I landed is only a five-minute drive away and is owned by the same chain. Priceline bid: $34 Room rate shown on hotel Web site: $79-105. Best discount rate found: $59. Savings on Priceline: $25 X 2 nights=$50 X 2 rooms=$100.

Please remember that these are base prices. Priceline adds a $5.95 processing fee and room taxes also are not included.

Even with a smaller city and a lower tab, the savings mount up quickly when there are multiple rooms/nights involved.

But is Priceline always the best hotel option? Click "next" and read about my poor bidding for a room in Prague.

I booked the U Tri Koronek hotel in Prague for a night in September. It's a three-star property on one of the tram lines just outside the city center.

I'm not nearly so familiar with Prague as the other cities, so I'm careful in my bidding. As it turned out, I was a bit too careful. The result was an overbid. Priceline bid: $60 Room rates shown on various Web sites: $63-86. Best discount rate found: $63. Savings on Priceline: $3.

It could be argued I actually lost on this one, because the three dollars does not cover Priceline's processing fee.

But I'm still at the low end of the best rates available during a 45-minute search on discount sites. It's time I would have saved if I had not been researching this story!

One more note: Ultimately, I never stayed in this room. Flooding knocked out the rail lines between Dresden and Prague, making for a 12-hour detour that led me to cancel my plans. In cases such as this, you are out of luck with Priceline. Since the hotel stayed open despite the flooding, I did not even ask for a refund. You gamble every time you use Priceline, and this time, I lost.

For more help with bidding strategy, consult BiddingForTravel's FAQ page.

It's clear that I have not yet fully mastered the art of the deal on Priceline. But as I've been learning, I've saved more than $400 on my hotel bills. Not bad on-the-job pay.

Another thing to consider: many of the hotels I've mentioned by name are not budget travel destinations. They are upscale places for which most would not pay full price on a tight budget. Priceline opens those doors to those so inclined.

Priceline is decidedly riskier for airline tickets. But for hotels and car rentals, most users can afford a few experiments.

As with most games, practice makes perfect.

Just remember that you might not always win.