Part 2: Bidding on Hotels
Obviously, the biggest impediment for most people using Priceline for a hotel is not knowing what hotel you are bidding on. The 24 hour rule is also annoying because chances are you are only bidding on a certain star level in a certain area of town. If your bid is rejected it is inconvenient to have to wait 24 hours before making the same bid. In this section, I will discuss ways to make an educated guess on the hotel you are bidding on and how to overcome the 24 hour rule. Before we get to that, it is important to start with an explanation of how bidding on a hotel with Priceline works.
Bidding on Hotel
When you bid on a hotel with Priceline you are allowed to select what area of town you want to stay in and the star level of the hotel. I almost always bid on 4-star hotels with Priceline and rarely lower than 3.5 stars. The reasons for that are, one, it narrows down the hotel choices and makes it easier to make an educated guess on what I am bidding on. And, two, at the 3.5 – 4 star level I know I will end up in a nice clean hotel.
When you bid on a hotel on Priceline the first thing you will see is a map of your destination. Let’s take Portland for an example.
You can see by looking at the map that there are a number of different zones you can select which are spread all over the Portland metro area. Zones 9 (NW), 4 (Downtown), and 12 (SW waterfront) are likely the zones of most interest to most people, with zone 4 leading the way.
Once you select a zone you then get to choose your star level. When you choose a star level, you are bidding on every hotel at that level and above. Your star level is your floor in terms of quality.
Here, you’ll notice that I am using NW Portland as an example. You will also notice that in the section where you select star level some star levels are gray and cannot be selected. This is because there are no hotels at those levels in the selected zone (this is something we will use to our advantage later on).
After selecting the zone and star level you then enter a price, but before doing that, we have some homework to do. First we want to figure out as best we can what hotels we are bidding on and how much we should bid.
Before bidding on a hotel the first thing I do is zoom in on the area I want to bid on. For this example lets assume you want a hotel in the Downtown core, so I would zoom in on just that area.
After getting a good idea of the boundaries I then open up a new tab and go to Priceline’s standard hotel search and click on the map view. Next, zoom in on an area that roughly covers the same area as the Name Your Own Price map. Then I select the star rating of for my desired hotel that I will be bidding on.
This gives me a pretty good idea of which 4-star hotels I will be bidding on. However, a word of caution, I have read anecdotally online about people claiming that the hotel they won on a bid did not match the star rating on Priceline’s standard hotel search. Meaning, they bid on a 4-star but got a 3.5 star or lower. I believe that in an area where there are only a couple of 4-star hotels Priceline, may be bumping the star level of lower hotels to broaden the bidding base. For our example, however, there are 11 4-star hotels so that should not be an issue.
I do this to research the various hotels and see if I have any major objections to any of them. If not, I will continue my research. If there is a hotel or two I would be really concerned about staying at, then I may decide the risk is not worth it and not bid on a hotel. But these hotels are all good so I continue my research.
After getting an idea of the hotels I am bidding on I then check out two websites, www.betterbidding.com and www.biddingfortravel.yuku.com. These websites are forums where people post their winning bids. On these sites a person will post which zone the hotel is in, star level, the price of the winning bid, and which hotel accepted the bid. These sites are a wealth of information. I look at both current bids and historical data to get a good feel of what price I should be bidding.
Lets use July as an example, after looking at these sites I see that 4-star hotels in July, in Downtown are going for about $80/night give or take. I also notice that 3.5 star hotels are going for about $60/night give or take.
With this information you have a pretty good idea on what hotels you will be bidding and what a realistic bid is.
Bidding Strategies and Getting Around the 24 Hour Rule
Much like with rental cars unless I am making a last minute trip, the first thing I do is reserve a hotel with a standard online travel agency that will let me cancel 24-72 hours before my stay without penalty. I always like to have a back up plan which is why I make this reservation.
Then about 2 weeks before my stay I will do all the research described above and bid on a hotel. I start my first bid about $20 lower then what the winning bids were on the forums. Why so low? Because there is a trick that will allow me to make the same bid multiple times so I figure I have nothing to lose. And if a lower bid is accepted, kudos to me right?
In this example then I would open my bid at $60 for a 4-star hotel. If/when the bid is rejected I will use a trick to bid again but increase my bid by $5. Here is the trick: You’ll notice that not every area has 4-star hotels, in fact, many only have 3-star hotels.
Take a look at zone 3, above, for example. See how there are no 4-star hotels? Now see what happens when I add zone 4 (downtown) back into the equation.
Voila, I am now able to bid on 4-star hotels again and since zone 3 does not have any 4-star hotels I know the 4-start hotels are located in downtown only, my desired location. This trick allows me to make multiple bids on 4-star hotels in the downtown area. If my first bid is rejected I add a zone with no 4-star hotels and increase my bid by $5. If my next bid is rejected, I combine zone 4 with another zone that does not have any 4-star hotels and once again increase my bid by $5. I continue this pattern until my bid is accepted or I run out of pairings. If I run out I then start over in 24 hours.
Update: Read this latest article on how to exponentially increase the number of rebids. I think this latest rebid strategy combined with trying to time your bidding to take advantage of supply and demand can score some great deals.
Much like rental cars the success of bidding on hotels depends on demand. If you are traveling when hotels are booked to capacity you will not have as much success when there are lots of empty hotel rooms. But even in a busy time like the summer people were scoring hotels for $80 a night that normally sell for $200 a night, that is quite a savings. Also like rental cars your leverage is at its best when making last minute bids (i.e. 1-2 weeks before arrival). Remember, once your bid is accepted to cancel your back up reservation if you have one. Good luck.
More from Portland Travel Tips
I love Priceline but in all honesty I have moved on to a more advanced strategy for cheap travel. Would you like to learn how to save tons of money on travel? I have, read more here.