Beat The System: Killer Priceline Tricks For Hotel Deals

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This is part two in a three-part series on using Priceline and Hotwire to get killer travel deals. See part one: The Secret To Getting Best Travel Prices on Priceline and Hotwire.

So you’ve gotten a good deal on cars, now it’s time to use Priceline get to the REALLY good deals: hotels. However, Priceline is not for the faint of heart. To get a really good deal, you have to do your homework.

Bidding on Priceline can pay off royally – getting 50-75% per night off lowest hotel prices – but it comes at a cost. You don’t get to pick the hotel, and if you screw up, you are stuck. Priceline’s cancellation policy is ironclad – they don’t give any (except in EXTREME circumstances). Are you willing to do the work and take the risk? Let’s go!

But before we get into the science of “beating” Priceline, let’s talk about the reality of hotels rooms and how they get into Priceline and Hotwire.

How Hotels Use Priceline and Hotwire
Hotels load rates into a booking system only accessible by Priceline and Hotwire. When you look for a hotel and or/place a bid:

  • Priceline looks to see if there is a hotel with a rate loaded able to accept your bid, if so they book that hotel room for you
  • Hotwire offers you one hotel (the lowest priced hotel at each star level in each zone)

During their usual busy periods, hotels normally won’t feed rooms into Priceline/Hotwire until the very last moment (hoping to sell the rooms without hard discount for this period). If eventually their reservation rate does not meet their expectations, they put rooms on the site.

For the off-season, hotels start feeding the sites with good discounts early, to get clientele from other hotels (clients are scarce). They will discount eventually even more in the last days if they have not sold their discounted rooms.

Of course you should also take into account specials events: conventions, etc… or on the other side, bad economic news, which impacts hotels and hospitality/tourism business very quickly.

How do Priceline/Hotwire Make Their Money?
Priceline makes its money on booking fees and amount of an overbid (and it is believed in some hotel agreements a commission on the sale as well). Hotwire makes their margin on booking fees and also on a markup to the rate the hotel has loaded into the system.

How this affects you:
It affects your bid timing. You can start bidding as soon as 11 months in advance of your stay, but it’s unlikely you’ll get a good deal as if you bid in the weeks close to the date.

How do you get familiar with how soon to bid, and how low the hotels are willing to discount? That’s where research comes in.

What the Pros Know: Research Bidding Histories
There’s light research and there’s heavy research. For light research, just to get a feel for the current rates, you can plug in your location and dates into Hotwire.com, orbitz.com, or expedia. You can also check prices using the excellent meta-search engine kayak.com. If you want to stop there, you can go to Priceline and try bidding at 50% off the prices you found in your research.

HOTWIRE TIP: If you want to stay at a specific hotel you know is used by HOTWIRE, do your search using the hotel address. If it’s available, chances are it will be the first one on your list.

But if you plan on booking more than just a one-off hotel room (or love the thrill of getting some price that’s so crazy low almost no one would believe it), it would behoove you to get serious about your research. There are some fantastic sites devoted to bidding on Priceline like betterbidding.com and biddingfortravel.com. On the forums there you’ll find detailed hotel bidding histories, including hotel, zone, rejected and accepted bids. Flyertalk.com also has some great forums on Priceline and Hotwire.

Note: since Priceline’s hotel inventory, pricing and zone structure can fluctuate widely (even on a daily basis), the forums are most useful for major cities with multiple recent bids.

Bid Like A Priceline Pro
Ok, now that you’ve done your research and have some bids in mind, you can start your savvy bidding. Here are some tips:

Tip: Ignore “Recent Winning Bids”: it’s just Priceline trying to hoodwink you – only believe what you’ve seen in the bidding forums

Ignore Priceline’s “Helpful” Bidding Hints
Sometimes during the bidding process, Priceline will offer to let you rebid without changing any parameters if you raise your bid $XX. Experienced Priceline customers know this means that at least 98% of the time, you’re very close to a winning bid – so you should add on a (free rebid zone) and start raising your bid in dollar or two dollar increments, or start a new bid in 24 hours that’s a few dollars higher. Basically, the helpful hint amount is likely the “fair profit margin” that Priceline would like to receive from you.

Tip: Start Bidding As Early as Possible to Get In the Lowballs
Start bidding as soon as your plans are firm. You can bid up to 11 months in advance, but you may get better deals bidding one to four weeks before your stay for the best deals, because hotels often hold back discounted rooms until close to the date. But don’t wait too long.

Tip: Bid On Higher Star Hotels First
Start out bidding for high star rating hotels. If you start your bid with 2 stars, Priceline checks for 2, 3, 4 and 5 star hotels for the price you entered. If your offer gets declined, you cannot rebid by changing to a 3, 4, or 5 star hotel (even if you want to bid a higher price). But, if you start with a 4 stars, you can rebid for a 3 star. Remember, when you rebid, you do not have to raise your price. If your $50 offer wasn’t accepted for a 4 star, that doesn’t mean you can’t bid $40 for a 3 star…

Tip: Book One Night Only
Even if you are planning on staying for a few nights, still book just one night. If your bid gets accepted, Priceline lets you add on additional nights at the same price. So once your bid is accepted, research the hotel online, and if you like it, reserve more nights, and if not, reserve a different hotel for the other nights.

DING DING DING Tip: Rebid Without Changing Stars or Zones
Normally to place a rebid, you either have to add another zone (area of town), lower your quality requirements, or change dates of your stay. Simply raising the amount of your bid doesn’t let you do a free rebid. Hotels on Priceline are rated by the star quality system, from 1 to 5 stars.

But here’s the key: not all zones have hotels in every category! The pros have figured out a way to use this to your advantage: add a zone to your rebid that you know does NOT contain a hotel with the star level you want – a “dummy zone.”

If there are many locations to choose from you can really work this to your advantage.

Let’s say you want to stay in a minumum 3-star hotel in location A. There are three zones in your target area, A, B and C. Here’s what you do:

  • Find a dummy zone. You could spend time clicking back and forth in Priceline, looking for which zones don’t have a 3-star hotel so you can use it for a dummy zone, but someone has already figured out a tool to do this: re-bidding.com (it’s in beta). Run your query in Priceline first, and click the name your own price link. Plug the URL from that page into re-bidding.com and it will figure out the dummy zones for you per star rating.
  • Start your re-bid and add this dummy zone to your offer. Let’s say it’s zone C.
  • You then put in that you are willing to stay in area C (which doesn’t have a 3 star hotel or higher) but you still leave checked that you want to stay in a 3 star hotel and raise your price slightly. If you win, your hotel will for sure be in area A because area B doesn’t have the hotel level that you requested!

BIG FAT NOTE: Zones (and the hotels included in them) are subject to change daily, so always double-check to make sure the dummy zone you’re using does not contain any hotels in your star quality range — even if you’ve bid in this city before.

BIG FAT NOTE TWO: If you are ever checking for a no-four star zone, make sure the zone you are checking doesn’t have a little palm tree next to it. The palm tree indicates that there are resorts in that area. You may check the spot and see there are no three star hotels, but when you go to bid and include that new location, they may end up sticking you at a resort.

Site Resources:
Thanks SO MUCH to betterbidding.com and biddingfortravel.com, which provided much help in writing this article. There are lots of helpful folks on these sites! Some other travel blog sites you might want to check out:

Better Bidding

Bidding For Travel

FlyerTalk

View From The Wing

Upgrade Travel Better

PeterGreenberg.com

The Cranky Flier

Coming up next in part three: Why Hotels Hate Priceline Guests & Other Dirty Little Secrets.

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Comments

  1. The Flying Critic Says:

    Learn tricks for getting hotel deals with Priceline

    Some people swear by Priceline for getting cheap hotel rooms. I’m not a regular user, but I’ve used it a few times when I didn’t care where I stayed and wanted to save some bucks. If you are willing to give up frequent guest program stay credits, po…

  2. Why Hotels Hate Priceline Guests & Other Dirty Little Secrets Says:

    [...] Reflections, Reviews, Tips, Rants, & Blog Recommendations for Creative Vacation and Business Travelers. « Beat The System: Killer Priceline Tricks For Hotel Deals [...]

  3. Donna Says:

    I got stuck today with a hotel on priceline that is 5 stars but got horrible reviews. Also, it’s too far for my older mother to walk. Of course I didn’t read all the hints before I booked and got it for 4 nights. Any hints for getting out of it ? I have called priceline several times and gotten a serious no way.