Nine Steps to Saving Big with Priceline
Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” tool is the Shatner-endorsed way to bid on hotels or airline flights. (And then pay additional taxes and fees.) Usually, I wouldn’t use a tool like this because it breaks the first rule of negotiation: Never talk first. But, if you go about it the right way, this tool can save you BIG.
Why Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” tool works
Priceline is able to get you a significant discount because it is not directly advertising the price of any one hotel. Instead, it is letting you bid on a star-rated range of hotels in a specific area. Hotels still want to fill up their property so they are willing to let rooms sell at a much cheaper rate.
1) Wait until the last second
Hotels usually accept much lower rates the closer it gets to check-in. A hotel is much more concerned about booking a room tonight or tomorrow than about booking a room three months from now. I know it can be intimidating, but if you want to get the best possible rate, you’ll want to stay within one week of your check-in.
2) Do your homework
If you search by star range, you’ll realize that in most areas, you’re really only choosing among three or four hotels. Look at each hotel and decide if you would be willing to stay at the worst hotel listed. Then decide at what price point you would consider staying at the worst hotel. I find it helpful to pull up a map and figure out exactly which hotels are in the area.
3) Don’t forget about fees
Priceline will sometimes add on a significant fee. This varies between areas, but I have seen fees get as high as 37 percent of the customer bid. The best way to check on this is to “preview your reservation.” You’ll see the fees broken out on the page.
4) Be willing to risk it all.
When you look at Priceline’s shopping tool, you will see recommendations for the price. Usually this is a bit of a discount, but still something that any hotel will turn a significant profit from. If you put in a price that is too low, Priceline will give you an intimidating warning about your bid.
5) Be reasonable
Yes, you’re trying to get a great deal, but be realistic about it. Remember that hotels are businesses, so your bid must be high enough to cover their break-even point for the room. There isn’t any magic number for what to bid, but usually I place my first bid (yes, first bid) at about 40 percent of the recommended price.
6) You can get more bids. (Surprise!)
I know. I was shocked too. Priceline gives you a very stern warning (see above) that says you’re only going to get one bid for the neighborhood. However, if you send an offer that is somewhat reasonable, but does not get accepted, Priceline will let you bid again for the same neighborhood. However, you can only bid higher. At this point I recommend stopping to consider if you are willing to pay more than you initially did. Remember that you could end up staying in your least favorite hotel in the neighborhood and Priceline will still add on fees.
7) Change your star range/neighborhood
No hotel accepted your first bid? No one came around for your slightly better second bid? No worries! Just change your star level or neighborhood. That’s something that Priceline doesn’t make clear at the beginning; you can start the whole process over. At this point you’ll want to go back to Step 1 and do your homework again, but remember that you can do this for every combination of star levels and neighborhoods.
8) Call the hotel after you get confirmation
As a best practice for Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Priceline, I always recommend contacting the hotel after your booking. Confirm your room and any special needs you might have. Write down the name of the person that you spoke to. This will take five minutes and can save you a ton of headache in the future.
9) Enjoy your win, and be nice
When you get to the lobby take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back and remember you probably got a better deal than anyone else in the hotel that night. But with great power comes great responsibility. I always make it a point to be very courteous and to generously tip the staff. After all, if a bunch of jerks start coming in through services like Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” tool, hotels may stop accepting lower bids.
Happy Bidding, Travelers!