Fiesta Americana Coral Beach- Cancun-Pictured, $117-“Name Your Own Price” Priceline, $379 – Various Discount Sites (Travelocity, etc)
About 10 years ago, I used to commute to Chicago weekly for 3-4 days per week. The deal I struck with my boss, is that he’d pick up the hotel room, and car, and I’d cover the cost of food. The rub was that he capped the cost at $75/Night. I played by the rules, booked an Extended Stay America, in a Chicago suburb through Travelocity. We’ll, $75
near Chicago buys a pretty crappy hotel. Also, the hotel was 10 miles away from where I worked. For those of us who traveled a lot to earn a living, to me, the most depressing thing is returning “home” after each work day, to a crummy hotel. The first week was OK, but the next week, I wanted to try something different. So I tried Priceline “Opaque” pricing, also known as “Name Your Own Price”, or “Bidding”. Admittedly, for those of you where the client foots the bill, there may be less incentive to get best pricing, but I always feel good about delivering a better bang for the buck even in those cases.
I was hesitant initially . Would I have to wait a day or two to figure out if I won? Would they give me the “defective room”, or a room someone died, was a previous crime scene, or a room that didn’t get cleaned daily. Would the hotel staff think I was a cheapskate, and whisper behind my back. Ha ha, well, I tried it anyway. Nothing like trying something to learn. So I searched for a 3* hotel in Lisle, IL, and went ahead and bid $75. About a minute after bidding, I won a great little room in Lisle, IL at the Hyatt. This was a very nice hotel, 1/2 mile from my office, good restaurant, nice bar, pool, and a lobby you
could hang out in and get some work done. I checked the “Guaranteed Lowest Price” from Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline’s discount page, and even (recently) Trivago, and all sites had the lowest price as $139/Night. So read the fine print on these sites.
“Lowest advertised price” is the claim. Note that Priceline “opaque” prices are not advertised. So long and short, the lowest cost on the internet I have found for hotels is Priceline bids (I’ve tried them all). I decided to be more audacious the next time, eventually being able to get the price for as low as $53/Night. Occasionally I won the Lisle, Hilton or Downers Grove Marriott, but 90% of the time it was the Hyatt.
It got to the point where I wouldn’t book the hotel until after I landed in Chicago, or on occasion, I went ahead and drove to the Hyatt, sat in the lobby, bid/won a room, and about 5 minutes later, walked over to check in.
So here are some tricks of the trade:
- Don’t book too far in advance – Booking months ahead will still get you a good price, but the best pricing is for room “inventory” they haven’t been able to book. So a two weeks or less in advance is better. I’ve done it while waiting for my plane very often. Don’t worry too much about pre-booking, only an a very rare occasion did my travel coincide with a major event, such as the Detroit Auto Show, where rooms we scarce.
- The hotels you are bidding on are the same hotels on the “discount” hotel page on Priceline – Having booked Priceline more than a 100 times, there is only one occasion where the hotel won, wasn’t in the Priceline discount page. So you can size up if you win the “worst” hotel in a specified neighborhood and star level, is it still a good hotel. For example, the Sheraton showed for my 3*, Lisle, IL neighborhood, search. Still a great hotel, and OK with me, but I almost always won the (better) Hyatt.
- Opening Bid – Find the lowest priced hotel at the star level and location on the discount page and bid 40% – 60% of that price. So if the lowest discount price is $139, you could start at $56. Note, that I cannot recall winning any bid below $50 for a 3*. No, you will not get a $10 3* hotel ever. Businesses need to make some money.
- “Hunt” for the lowest Price – I found it fun to bid at 40% – 50% of the lowest advertised price, fully expecting to lose the first bid, which I often did. So, the key point is in Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price”, you need to change one of three variables to submit another bid, being neighborhood, star level and dates. On each round, increase your price a bit (a few dollars at a time, if your patient). DO NOT ACCEPT THEIR SUGGESTED BID. You can generally do better.
- Hunting Strategy 1: Don’t Lower Your Star Level, Increase It – I found 3* (out of 5*) on Priceline generally delivers hotels similar to Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, or Embassy Suites. So I start with 3*, then go to 4*, then to 5*.
- Hunting Strategy 2: Move Around Your Date Range – So, if you need to stay Monday through Thursday, you start with a Monday – Thursday range. If you lose, you can try Monday – Wednesday, then Monday-Tuesday, Then Tuesday-Thursday, Then … and so on. Don’t worry, there is a trick to pick up any missing nights.
- Extend Your Stay Option – Once you land on a winning bid, and if you used the “Date Range Strategy” (above) you will often be presented with “Do you want to extend your stay at that price?” So if you won Wednesday – Thursday, you can often pick up Monday – Tuesday at the same price. If they don’t offer it, you can put in another reservation, same location, same star level, and same price.
- Hunting Strategy 3: Change Your Neighborhood Last – The neighborhood found in the Priceline Discount page, are the same neighborhoods used in bidding. So, I generally change this last, as:
1. I can see the inventory I am bidding on.
2. I want a good neighborhood, or to be close of my work or attraction.
So, I was hooked. I used Priceline both nationally and internationally, including Mexico, France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and UK with the same great results, and savings below the lowest discount price being 20% – 60%.
The only downside to bidding is that you’ll be prepaying. So if your plans change, they already charged you up front. They got your money. If you decide on different travel dates, after you booked, no, they will not allow you change the dates. You’ll need to make another reservation. This is less of a problem than I thought, as I’ve gotten in the habit of booking very close to travel dates, so I know my dates won’t change.
I’ve also booked as I go. When my family (a group of 4) wandered around Europe a few years back, the only hotel we pre-booked initially was a day or two in the city we landed in (Dusseldorf), to make sure we had a place to stay when we got off the plane. From there, we stayed in a city until we felt we had our fill, then booked the next city often a day or two before traveling to the next city. Often day of travel.
Let me know if you have used this before, or if you found this useful and tried it out. It is sort of like low grade gambling, but you always win!