Go where no man has gone before: How to game travel bidding websites like Priceline

There are good reasons why some people are afraid of or unwilling to bid on travel on Priceline.com. Its TV commercials, with William Shatner phoning it in for a paycheck, can be plenty o' annoying, for one. But more troubling is the idea that by using the site, you're offering to pay money for something when you don't yet know exactly what it is. But there are ways to get around that uncertainty.

The concept of the site is pretty simple. Priceline asks web users what they'd be willing to pay for a hotel room in a certain region of a city. It deals behind the scenes with those hotels, showing them your offer. Only the hotel that accepts the offer is identified, after you've agreed to pay the money. That's a good way to either unwittingly bid too much for a room or to get a place you'd rather not stay in.

But the value of the site is solid. I have paid $29 for hotel rooms using the site, and $17 a day for rental cars. As long as you don't have your heart set on a single property, it can work.

Still, you should never bid on something blindly. A number of online message boards are dedicated to revealing what other people have gotten on Priceline. Go to a few of them when you start your search and find out what prices worked for others, and which places they got when they bid.

One of the bigger ones is called BetterBidding.com, which is active, well-stocked with morsels of recent victories, and generally welcoming. I like to start here.

A second choice is one of the longest-running and most frequently updated sites, Biddingfortravel.com. This site has the significant downside of being run by an abrasive administrator who incessantly insists you earn her commissions by bidding through her affiliate website. (Some readers report being banned from the site if they post there without having used her website. You can simply read BiddingForTravel, and cull recent winning bids, without being singled out.)

A newcomer, WinningHotelBids.com, is just now getting its legs, and BidlessTravel.com also has a smaller selection of successful examples, but its design shows promise.

Whichever site you use, make sure your price quotes are relatively recent. Every few weeks, Priceline's stock rolls over and so reports much older than that won't be of use. And remember that hotels with four or five stars also often come with "resort fees" of around $15 a day, and parking fees that could be even higher. So the best bargains, the ones where you'll actually end up paying what you bid, are for hotels with fewer stars.

If you want these sites to remain useful, post your own bidding results on them. You gotta be a friend to have a friend.

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Used Priceline to reserve 2 hotels for a recent vacation to California with planned visits to Disneyland and Universal Studios. For the Disneyland stay, I managed to get a 3.5 star for 60/night and I was absolutely stunned when I got there. Normal rate for my room was 150/night, and for good reason. The place was just beautiful, and literally across the street from Disney.

The 2nd one, not so good. Got a place near the Burbank airport at 65/night, regularly 160/night, though definitely not worth the difference. Parking lot was in serious disrepair (despite the 12/night charge to park), hallway carpets stained, just not worth the asking price.

Overall, it was a good trip and definitely saved plenty of money thanks to Priceline :)

http://www.ibidlow.com/ is a site that is usually used to get information so that you then know how to use the mystery site Priceline. It has very good information and strategies and you can usually use the info to find out which hotels are likely to be offered.

November 06 2013 at 3:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the real reason people aren't using Priceline that often is because of the non-refundable room reservations. You buy and you're locked in unless you have trip cancellation insurance. For me, I avoid it when travelling with my family because you aren't guaranteed bedding for more than 2 guests per room. Also the website www.hoteldealsrevealed.com is another good helper site to derisk Priceline.

January 29 2013 at 4:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply