I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.
This is the thirty-second post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go. Previously Cheapskate Lodging with Hotel Promos, Hostels, airbnb, and CouchSurfing.
Today I’ll continue the theme of cheap paid travel when you don’t have or don’t want to use points.
This is a topic I love: saving 60% on hotels using priceline. If you aren’t being reimbursed for your hotel expenses, and you have any flexibility over which hotel you can stay in, priceline.com’s “name your own price” section can save you hundreds of dollars per stay, so bookmark this post!
Let’s imagine you’ve booked free first class into an exotic city; now it’s time to get your room.
There are a few tricks to know when bidding on priceline, so read this post (and tomorrow’s) carefully before setting off to make your bids. First let me explain how priceline’s bidding section works.
As the commercials say, hotels give their unwanted inventory to priceline to sell at a steep discount to get at least some revenue. Priceline categorizes their inventory by city and then by zone within a city.
Priceline does not let you select a hotel in which you want to stay. All you can select is the quality of the hotel (in stars), and the zone in which you want to stay. That’s crucial. If you need to stay in a specific hotel, do not use priceline’s bidding feature.
Another aspect to consider is that you earn no hotel points and no status for stays booked through priceline. For me, this is not a problem because I don’t believe that hotel loyalty programs are worth the 150% premium I would often have to pay if I didn’t use priceline.
With those caveats in mind, if you still want to save 60% on hotels, scroll down on the priceline homepage and click “bid now” under the hotel in the “name your own price” section.
Type in the city, your dates, and the number of people. Now the city map will come up with a number of zones–New York has 18.
You can click on a zone to zoom in on it. Do this for any zone you’d consider staying in to make sure you are willing to stay in the entire zone.
Why? Because if you bid on a zone and win, you could end up with a non-refundable charge on your credit card for a stay anywhere in the zone.
If you’ve identified one or more zones in which you would stay, check their boxes. Now decide which quality hotels you want to stay in. The priceline star system does not necessarily correspond to any other star system, so click on each star level to learn about that star level and see what brands fall under that star level.
Now you’re almost ready to make your bid, but let me explain how bidding works. To make a bid, you have to give your credit card info because if your bid is accepted, the hotel is booked. You are given the hotel information, and a non-refundable charge is made to your card.
You can only bid once per day. This is designed to keep you from bidding $1 per night and increasing your bid $1 at a time until you find the lowest price at which a bid is accepted. Luckily there are two circumventions to the one-bid-per-day rule.
The first is that you can add lower quality hotels and rebid.
The second is that you can add a new zone and rebid. This is a huge loophole we will exploit to save hundred of dollars.
Before bidding, you need to note every zone in your city of choice that has only lower quality hotels than you’re searching for. Reread that sentence.
If you are searching for 4 star hotels in the Madison Square Garden – Convention Area section of New York, note every section of New York that has only 3 and 1/2 stars and below.
The way to do this is to check each area’s box one at a time and see which do not allow you to check 4 or 5 star hotels because they have none.
Zone 4, Coney Island, has no 4 star or better hotels, so we note that for later.
Write down all these zones that lack 4 star hotels and above because each such zone is a free rebid that we’ll use later. For New York, there are four zones that lack 4 and 5 star hotels, I noted that they are zones 4, 8, 13, and 14.
Now make your first bid. The FAQ section on the biggest site related to priceline bidding suggests the following opening bids:
- 1* $15
- 2* $17
- 2.5* $19
- 3* $25
- 3.5* $25
- 4* $40
- 5* $55
- Resort $40
I think those are good starting points. You will be prompted to enter your credit card info. And priceline will show the total amount of your bid including taxes and fees.
The most likely outcome is that your bid will be rejected. Fear not. We’ve got some tricks up our sleeves like free rebids! I’ll walk you through using those tomorrow!