How To Save Money With Priceline: Part 3 – Airfare

Part 1 – Bidding on Rental Cars
Part 2 – Bidding on Hotels
Part 3 – Bidding on Airfare

Part 3: Bidding on Airfare

This is the last part in my three part series on how to use Priceline to save a lot of money on travel. If you have read all the Priceline posts you’ll notice a theme with how you can earn the biggest savings.  Which is taking advantage of low demand and high supply with last minute bids.  Bidding on airfare is no different.  First, I will walk you through bidding on airfare in a manner that will provide you with nearly unlimited bids, which will allow you to find the rock bottom price.  Afterwards, I will express some of my thoughts why I think in most circumstances bidding on airfare it is not worth the risk, but we will get to that in a moment.  Frist, how to bid on airfare: 

Step 1 – Check Airfare Prices

Just like with car rentals and hotels you want to know what the lowest available published fare is for your trip.  This will be your ceiling for the bids you make.  For researching airfare I like to use a website called ITA Software.  ITA is the software company that makes the search engine that most online travel agencies use to look up airfare.  You can use this software directly from their website.  I like it because it cuts out the middle man and often times shows you more available flights than what a OTA will display.  The downside is you can’t book directly through ITA you still have to go to an OTA or book directly with the airline.  But for our purposes that is ok because we just want the information.

For our example lets look at roundtrip airfare from Boston to Portland on June 8th to June 15th.


Looks like the cheapest flight is $347.  Another theme you may have noticed with rental cars and hotels is that I look to book a rental car or hotel in advance as a back up plan in case all my bids on Priceline are rejected.  Unfortunately, you cannot do that with airfare unless you pay the increased cost for a fully refundable ticket.

Step 2 – How to Get Around 24 Hour Rule

When bidding on airfare with Priceline you can either type in the airports you want to fly between or enter the cities you want to fly between.  You always want to use city pairs.  If you were to enter BOS to PDX and your bid was rejected you would be locked out of making another bid between those destinations for 24 hours.  However, if you were to enter city pairs you have as many bids as there are cities that are serviced by your destination airport.  Chances are in most circumstances you will either reach your ceiling or have your bid accepted before you run out of city pairs.   After you have an idea of what the published rate is for your desired route, go look at a map.   Find out the name of as many suburbs and cities that you think might be serviced by your destination airport.  Let me show you how this works.

Instead of typing BOS to PDX as your departure and arrival destinations we will enter in Boston, MA to Gresham, OR.


The next step takes you to a page where you get to select the airports you want to fly between.


Gresham is a suburb of Portland.  When I use Gresham as a destination Priceline allows me to choose PDX as my destination airport.  Now lets look at what your options are if your bid is rejected.


When your bid is rejected Priceline brings up a page where it will allow you to make some changes to your bid in order to allow you to make another bid.  These changes include changing your dates, airport pairs, or agreeing to fly a red eye.  But what if you don’t want to agree to any of those things?  Go back to the beginning and input a different Portland suburb as the destination.

Here, I will input Boston, MA and Troutdale, OR with the same exact dates, June 8th to the 15th.


Notice how BOS and PDX come up as options again.  This is a real simple trick to get around Priceline’s annoying 24 hour rule.  For Portland, here are a handful of cities you could plug in as your destination instead of PDX.

Portland                       Gresham
Fairview                        Troutdale
Hood River                   Cascade Locks
The Dalles                    Sandy
Government Camp       Oregon City
West Linn                     Lake Oswego
Tualatin                        Tigard
Beaverton                     Aloha
Hillsboro                       Forest Grove
Scappoose                   St. Helens

The list is almost endless.  You could probably enter every town or city in the state and chances are PDX will come up as an option to fly into. Not to mention towns and cities in Washington.  So you really do have nearly unlimited bids.

Step 3 – Bidding 

After you enter your city pairs, you will go to a page where you select your destination airport and make your opening bid.  Also on this screen is a helpful little information box on the right.


When you bid on airfare with Priceline you do not know what airline you will fly with or the routing until after your bid is accepted.  This box helps you get a feel for what your routing might be like in terms of how many stops and whether you will have a redeye.  In some cases you may look at these numbers and decide bidding is not worth the risk.  That you would rather pay an extra $200 then have two stops and a red eye.  But if you are willing to take the risk here is what you do.

The published rate for BOS to PDX is $347.  I would make my opening bid about 60% lower than the published rate, in this case $138.  That bid will likely be rejected, but that is ok.  If my bid is rejected, I would start over with a different city as my destination and increase my bid by $1.  I would continue changing my destination city and increasing my bid by $1 until my bid is accepted or until I reach my ceiling.

It is important to remember that your bid amount does not include taxes.  Taxes are added to your bid amount.  Priceline will tell you what the final price is before you confirm your bid.  So keep an eye on the total price.


While I say your ceiling is the lowest published fare, in fact it should probably be lower than that because of the risk involved.  Before bidding ask yourself this question: How much savings is worth the risk of two stopovers or a redeye? If you think that you have to save at least $100 for the risk to be worth it, then your ceiling is really $100 lower than the lowest published fare.  In this example the ceiling would be $247.

Final Thoughts

As I have mentioned before the biggest savings come when you make last minute bids.  For airfare this means you wait to make a bid until a week before departure.  Personally, in most cases I don’t think Priceline makes much sense for airfare.  I don’t think the savings are worth it.  If I am planning a trip a few months in advance I don’t want to wait until the last minute to buy airfare.  If I wait and all my bids are rejected I may end up paying more for last minute airfare than I would have if I had just purchased the airfare two months earlier.

With airlines cutting routes and planes being fuller than ever the risk of you hitting your ceiling is high.  You also need to consider whether saving $50 to $100 is worth having a stop-over or a redeye.   The only time I think Priceline makes sense is if you are going on an spur of the moment type trip.  So think about these things before deciding to use Priceline for airfare.   Anyway, chances are if you have used my methods for a hotel and rental car you have already saved yourself hundreds of dollars.

If you found this information helpful please use my Priceline link when making your bid.  I appreciate your support.


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.


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18 thoughts on “How To Save Money With Priceline: Part 3 – Airfare

  1. Good article. I agree that priceline for flights – with the risk of long layovers possibly overnight layovers or redeyes – would only make sense if the price is significantly lower than available fares. I have tried a few times for flights to Europe and Hawaii from the US, but never got a hit with a lowball offer.

    • For me personally, about the only way I could see Priceline making sense is if you had to be somewhere last minute. It is at least worth a shot to see if you can get a discounted rate on a last second flight. For flights with more notice, and sometimes even for last second flights, there are better options for saving money on airfare, but that is a post for a different day.

  2. Pingback: Adventures in Attempting to Priceline International Flights - Heels First Travel

  3. Hi, I have question: When you say your ceiling, should that include the taxes? Like with $247 being your ceiling do you mean you should aim for $196 ticket price plus $51 in taxes to reach your high point or $247 plus the taxes? TIA

  4. I have a trip coming up in November. The lowest published price is $241.60. Take away $51.05 in taxes and it is $190.55. 40% off of that is $114.33. This would be my ceiling, without taxes of course! Next I divide $190.55 by 2 and get $95.28 as my starting bid and increase by $1.00 until I get to my ceiling, or maybe even after since it will still be cheaper than just the regular published price. Did I get it right? TIA

    • Figuring out your ceiling for airfare is a bit of a personal preference. The question you should ask yourself is at what point is the savings not worth the risk of potentially having two layovers or a red eye? For me, I would rather pay and extra $50-$100 to avoid a double layover. Priceline will tell you what the final price will be with taxes before confirming your bid. It’s that number that you will want to compare to your ceiling. Good luck.

    • I honestly don’t know. It may be possible to work something out directly with the airline where you pay for a change fee. But those fees are so high these days that it would probably wipe away any savings you gained by using priceline in the first place.

  5. Good article! In March 2014, we used Priceline’s Name Your Price for an emergency trip from San Diego to Fargo. The day before our planned trip the cheapest roundtrip ticket was $573. We tried Name Your Price for the first time and got the ticket for $263, a savings of $310! The only caveat is we had a 3 hour layover in Denver but since 2 of us were traveling, it was worth it as we saved $620 on the flight. We plan on booking again using Name Your Price to save. Just my thoughts..

    • Thanks for the feedback. I think that is the perfect example of where bidding for a flight makes good sense.

  6. Booked my first flight with priceline… thanks to the info here. My savings 43%. Flying in 6 days. LAX (CA) to VPS (FL), $390 (not including $51.45 fees). My starting bid was $333. I made my incremental bids in $5 increments.

  7. When I was preparing to make a bid it said Priceline searches for non-stop flights first but Priceline flights may make up to one connection…. so this sounds like the most planes I’ll be on is two for a short domestic flight??? Any insight?

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