PART 1: RENTAL CARS
I love using Priceline for car rentals. Priceline advertises that you can save up to 40% with Name Your Own Price. With my strategy I routinely save 50% and more. I have gotten a Toyota Prius in Kentucky for $10 per day, a compact in Tahoe for $12 per day, and SUVs in Hawaii for $15 per day. A friend of mine used my strategy to get a convertible in Hawaii for $20 per day. I’ve yet to find a cheaper way to rent a car.
If you have never used Priceline before, using it for car rentals is a great place to get your feet wet. Mainly because rule #1 (bidding blind) is not that big of a deal with car rentals. When you bid on a rental car with Priceline your car will come from one of these five national brands: Alamo, Avis, National, Hertz, or Budget. My guess is if you are reading this you probably don’t care which brand you get your car from. I know I don’t. So, if your bid is accepted you know it will come from a reputable brand that is either onsite at the airport or a quick shuttle ride away.
Let me start by summarizing my strategy and then I will take you through it step by step. I make a rental car reservation with a rate I am comfortable paying and then one to two weeks before my trip I bid on Priceline and then cancel my previous reservation after a successful bid. My strategy works because of two things. First, car rental reservations can be cancelled at any time. Second, a rental company would rather let a car go for next to nothing then let it sit on their lot not earning revenue.
Step 1: Make a reservation
For this step any online travel agency will do, just make sure the reservation can be canceled at the last minute without penalty. If you are a Costco member, Costco travel usually has pretty good deals.
I like to have this reservation as a back up plan in case my bid is not accepted. The only time I have not had a bid accepted was when I went to Phoenix to watch Oregon play in the BCS National Championship game. I think every rental car in town was taken. Fortunately, I had made a reservation a few months prior so I did not have to pay last minute rack rates, which can be pretty high during peak travel.
Once I have made the reservation I don’t do anything until about one to two weeks before my travel dates.
Step 2: Set your ceiling
Before I bid on a car the first thing I do is check the rates on various websites, such as Travelocity, Expedia, Costco, Hotwire, Autoslash, etc…I do this so I have an idea of what my ceiling is before biding. Obviously I am not going to bid more than a lower price on a different website.
Let’s imagine that you are visiting Portland the week 1/21/13. After scanning various websites I found the best rate was on Travelocity for about $14.50 per day for a mid-size/intermediate car.
This is a pretty good rate but not great since it is the low season here in Portland. I make a mental note of this price and head on over to Priceline.
Step 3: Make a bid
On Priceline’s landing page you will want to click on the bid now button just below the car logo on the bottom right.
This will bring up a pop up window for you to fill in your information.
In the pop up window fill in your information and your bid amount. I always start with half my ceiling or $10 whichever is lowest (I put in $1.00 because I don’t actually want to rent a car). Why? I intentionally want my first bid to be really low, because Priceline will make a suggested bid that I find is also a helpful benchmark. And if the low bid is accepted even better.
I then adjust my initial bid to half the suggested Priceline bid amount. I’ve found over the years that for last minute bids half this price is usually not far off the mark.
After you submit your bid a confirmation page will appear. Here you fill in your traveler information and credit card information.
After you fill in your information at the bottom of the screen is the “buy my rental car now” button. Press the button to see if your bid was accepted, remembering rules 3 and 4 (instant billing, non-refundable).
If it is accepted you will be billed automatically and your rental is non-refundable. Priceline will also tell you which of the five companies accepted your offer. And remember to go back and cancel the car reservation you have been holding as a back up.
Now, lets go over what to do if your bid is rejected.
Step 4: Bid again if rejected
Priceline limits your bids to one per 24 hours. But this restriction is limited to redoing the exact bid. The easy way around this is to bid on different sized cars. My strategy for rental cars is to first bid on the smallest car I can get by with and then if my bid is rejected, I make another bid on the next size up increasing my bid by a dollar.
Taking the week of the 21st for example the suggested bid amount from Priceline was $17 for a midsize car. Accordingly, my first bid for a midsize car would be $8. If that is rejected I would then bid on an intermediate for $9, if that is rejected I would bid on a full size for $10, etc… I stop bidding after a bid on an SUV is rejected. If I go through that progression and all bids are rejected then I try again in 24 hours starting at midsize but adding $1 to all my previous bids.
I keep repeating this pattern until an offer is accepted or I reach my ceiling.
Now, every once in awhile when I do this progression, Priceline will make me an offer. Whenever I ever get that screen I take the offer. It is almost always lower than my ceiling and when I turn it down I have yet to beat the offer, so if you see that (sorry I don’t have a picture of that screen), take the offer if it is lower than your ceiling (and I promise it will be).
Like I said before, I have had great success with this strategy and so have my friends. Only one time did I go through this progression and hit my ceiling. 99% of the time this works and the rate is better then anywhere else online.
Good luck, happy bidding, and If you have any questions on bidding for rental cars feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.
If you find this information helpful, please consider using my Priceline link for making your reservation. Thank you.by