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Priceline Hotel Bidding

Grab bargains and beat the system

It's possible to get mammoth discounts on hotels in New York, LA, Barcelona and more, using a sneaky trick to beat US site Priceline's bidding system.

Done right, this is a superb way to get the highest end hotel possible within your budget, especially if you're not desperate to stay at a particular place. One MoneySaver bagged a week at NYC's luxury Time Square Sheraton for £330, rather than usual £1,200.

How much can you save?

Hotel bidding site Priceline* flogs posh hotel rooms at colossal discounts, and it’s especially strong for US hotels.

The technique's simple, but you'll need to spend a few minutes understanding it. So here's a little inspiration. For more successes and to add yours, read the Priceline success thread.

We bagged six nights at the Sheraton Manhattan Times Square for £336 – that’s £55 a night. To book direct with the hotel would've cost £1,230 or £205 per night, so my whole trip, including flights, was cheaper than I would have paid for the hotel alone."

I got the 4* Hyatt Regency Century plaza in LA. Two rooms, two nights was £335 instead of £653 on Expedia. In the last year, I've saved hundreds of pounds in locations as diverse as Manchester and Salt Lake City. New York is particularly good. My best bargain ever was Hilton Times Square for $105 (cheapest rate $300).

What's more, it's worked for Martin too...

For a New York hotel, I paid 63% of a comparison site's cheapest for the same deal. Yet the time-saving was also cracking. Picking a hotel can be a nightmare, as you look on review sites and for every three 'it's the most amazing place I've ever been' posts, two say 'avoid like the plague'.

This way, the decision is made for you and at a decent price, so even if it's awful, at least it wasn't overpriced and awful.

How Priceline works

Giant US-based site Priceline* lets you book hotels in the normal manner too, but, for that, better bets are comparison sites such as Trivago, TravelSupermarket* or TripAdvisor*. See Cheap Hotels for a full step-by-step guide. Yet where Priceline comes into its own is its 'name your price' function, which works as follows:

  • Select where you want to stay

    Simply select the location and area you want to stay in.

  • Tell it the hotel class

    Priceline follows its own star rating system. One thing you can't select is whether the bed is king or double, or a smoking or non-smoking room (in countries where smoking's allowed). Once booked, you can email the hotel to request these, though it's not guaranteed. If two separate beds are crucial, Priceline's probably not for you.

  • Pick a price

    Tell it how much you're willing to pay (bid) for a room per night. It gives a guide price based on the criteria you've selected.

    Once you've entered your price, Priceline checks if any of the hotels it covers will accept your offer. If you don't win, you don't pay anything. You pay extra for taxes, but Priceline displays these before you pay.

  • Wait to see if the bid's successful

    If the bid wins, the hotel's yours at the price selected. If not, you're supposed to wait a day to put in another bid (but see the loophole below for how to get round this).

The key thing to understand about this system:

Put your bid in and you’re committed. If it's accepted, there's no going back.

It works because hotels can offer discounts on unsold rooms without publicising it, so other clients don't know a discount's possible. Plus you can't get a refund, so they guarantee a sale.

Remember, this is a gamble. As the hotel's unnamed, Priceline is probably best for three or four night city breaks, rather than two-week dream holidays. There's always the risk the hotel you win will be on sale cheaper on another site. If this happens, try emailing Priceline to complain.

Watch the video guide

Courtesy of Martin's It Pays To Watch, Channel 5 - June 2009

How to beat the system

While the system's already competitive and can lead to some good deals, there's a trick to supercharge even these discounts.

Normally, bid too low and you’ll have to wait a day to bid again. But a loophole allows you multiple bids in a day. In other words, if you want a three-star Miami hotel (normally at £80-a-night) bid first at £30 but if that doesn’t work, try £35 next, then £40. This way, you’ll always succeed near the minimum accepted price.

Thanks to all those MoneySavers, especially Blindman (see his Priceline bidding guide), for their tips and info.

How to get multiple bids

There are a number of ways to grab extra bids:

  • Do it with your partner

    If you travel with a friend or partner, provided you've both separate emails and have different payment cards, you double the number of possible bids.

  • Start with a deliberately narrow area and add more

    Many cities are split up into a number of different areas. New York City, for example, has 18 different ‘zones’. If your bid’s rejected, you can rebid, provided you add an area.

    So start with a low bid in one area you would be happy staying in, add another area and up your bid. The more areas the city’s divided into, the further you can finesse each price increase.

    Look at the table below to see where this works best.

Which are the best cities for this?
City Zones City Zones
Prague 3 Hong Kong 12
Berlin 6 Madrid 13
Seoul 6 Melbourne 14
Tokyo 7 London 14
Atlantic City 7 Boston 15
Dublin 7 Barcelona 15
Amsterdam 8 Miami 16
Bangkok 8 Toronto 16
Mexico City 8 Washington DC 17
Niagara Falls 9 Shanghai 17
New Orleans 9 Seattle 17
Honolulu 9 New York 19
Beijing 11 Rome 19
Southampton (US) 11 Paris 19
Singapore 12 San Diego 20
Vienna 12 Atlanta 23
Los Angeles 12 Houston 27
  • Lower your star class

    If you're on a strict budget, an alternative to lowering the bid is to keep the bid the same (or even go slightly lower) and drop the star class you're looking at, to see if it's accepted. Priceline sometimes allows you to drop by half a star level, so this is a handy technique.

  • See how well you did

    Look the place up on TripAdvisor*, to see what’s in-store and what previous guests think.

The advanced Priceline system

This fairly simple system above gives you more bids than usual, and should help cut the price down to a decent level. However, if you're willing to play slightly more, a super-advanced approach finesses your search.

See how to check what hotel you’re likely to get and avoid hellholes, plus exploit Priceline’s ‘counter offers’ to hit the lowest possible price.

The advanced Priceline system

How it works in practice

Case Study - Mr Ivan Tahotelroom

PricelineMr Ivan Taholiday is after a four-star hotel in Los Angeles. He fancies staying in Beverly Hills or Downtown. He searches on Priceline and discovers that there are 12 zones in Los Angeles, but only seven have four star hotels or above.

As Mr T would only be prepared to stay in Beverly Hills, Downtown or Hollywood, this means he’s got six extra chances to bid. The boxes he should never tick are Brentwood, El Sugundo, Hermosa Beach, Santa Monica and LA Airport: they have four star hotels, so he could be allocated there.

After searching on hotel comparison sites, the cheapest named four star hotel Mr T found was £110. Yet he spotted that people on Betterbidding were commonly winning four star hotels Downtown for just £40.

bidHe starts bidding at £35, gets rejected, then ups his bid by £3, adds Culver City, which has no four star hotels, to the list of zones he would stay in. At that point he wins The Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown, at £38 a night. The cheapest rack rate for that night was £95.