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.
Hood River Cascade Locks
The Dalles Sandy
Government Camp Oregon City
West Linn Lake Oswego
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.
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.