Thursday, March 1, 2007

Saving Cash on Travel Series: (Article 1/4)

I cringe at endorsing a company or product with William Shattner as a spokesperson, but here goes. Aside from being known for it's terrible advertising Priceline is known as a website that allows users to "name their price" on hotels, airfare, cruises and rental cars. The site has an inventory of excess supply that companies are willing to dump as a steep discount. That is one of the reasons that people with some luck and persistence can get a steal by using the site. The company does not disclose what hotel, flight or rental car company you are bidding on, but you can pick by star level on hotels or flight times for airfare. If your bid is too low it will be denied in which case you either have to 1) raise your offer 2) add another "zone" or area to your search or 3) decrease the level of stars of quality of hotel you are willing to settle on. There are two catches though the first is that you have a limited number of re-bids before you have to wait 72 hours before bidding again and if the company accepts your bid you are on the hook for the cost and generally can't cancel.

I recently booked a weekend stay in a large midwestern metropolitan area with and saved a considerable amount of money (I paid $50 per night for a $120 per night room, a savings of $70 per night sounds good to me for a four star hotel chain). Nothing earth shattering here, but if you play you cards right you can game the system much easier than blindly naming your price.

Enter Better Bidding For Travel and other sites that aggregate user submitted winning bids. Users often submit what zone or area they bid on, what price bids won and failed, and their resulting hotel brand. This is incredibly valuable for people like you and me. It gives us an idea of what hotel locations have been won recently in a given area and what price we should start at bidding without low-balling too much. Had I checked Better Bidding first I would have known that I overpaid $5 from another user's bid a week before my trip. Not that I'm splitting hairs over $5 but you can understand that this could add up in a high rent area like Manhattan where the nightly room goes for considerably more.

Things to Consider Before Bidding:

  • A standard Priceline room is double occupancy and does not specify smoking or non-smoking. You can contact the hotel directly after winning and specify your preference for a king bed or non-smoking, but from my experience it will never be guaranteed only noted.

  • The steepest discounts are on 4 and 5 star properties simply because they have the most margin to work with in the first place.

  • Be not afraid of the process, it is not as complicated as it may sound. Forums like Better Bidding have members who are particularly friendly and helpful for those who may be new to the game.