It’s been more than a week since I’ve posted – reason being that it’s difficult -if not impossible- to work on one’s blog when on the road. Whatever. But I thought I’d do a travel related post, since this is what has been occupying my recent thoughts – and since there is so little I could write about the good food we’ve had on our trip -because there hasn’t been any- I thought I’d do a piece on what we’ve learned about using Priceline to schedule daily lodging while moving across the U.S. on I-10.
A few years ago we started using Priceline to schedule accommodations for pleasure trips – and we began to learn some of the tricks of the process. There really is a learning curve involved here, and if you’re not willing to invest a little time, you’ll not only not save $$$, you could easily wind up spending more than if you simply walked in off the street! So, allow me to share a few things I’ve learned about Priceline, and throw in a few I-10 accommodations experiences as well, and maybe it’ll help you to save a few bucks on your next trip out of town.
The very best kind of trip to use Priceline for is a leisure weekend or a short time business trip. The less structure and rigidity in your plans, the easier it’ll be to take advantage of Priceline – on the other hand, as soon as your Priceline plans are set, they are now as rigid as can be! For that reason, one of the most difficult kinds of trips to do with Priceline is a long distance trip requiring several days. Should something arise that changes your plans, you stand to lose several days of paid reservations. And as we discovered on our trip east earlier this year, even if nothing untoward occurs, you’re still tied down to the rigidity of your daily travel plans – so you’d better plan well!
Because of our less than thoughtful planning on our way east on I-10, we changed the way we structured our plans for the return trip – basically, we cut the daily distance, and time, so our stress levels would be improved. This of course meant that our travel expenses would go up, with more overnight accommodations and meals – however, it is the far easier way to travel sanely, and when we arrived at daughter Melissa’s place in L.A., we weren’t zonked for the next three days. So, you just decide up front which price you are more willing to pay, and go for it.
A second change we made to our planning process for the return trip was NOT to make our plans too far in advance, so that our travel plans could be changed if necessary – or we decided to stay over in an area for a day or two more. The price you pay for this flexibility is that you may only get one shot at a Priceline bid, because of their rule that you are only allowed one “price” bid every 24 hours – that means that if your bid of $35 was rejected, you’d have to wait until the same time the next day to try again – this may tend to cause you to bid a bit higher, but I found my return trip bids were actually a few cents a day less than my initial trip bids.
BTW, if you wish to maximize the bidding process on Priceline, spend a little time gaining an understanding of this bidding structure which provides the maximum number of bidding permutations – it’s very enlightening, and helpful. This same site provides many great tips and tricks to use on Priceline, as well as a ton of good info and bid histories – some seriously dated – to check out prior to bidding on Priceline.
OK, so what about our recent experiences on our I-10 travels? Here’s a capsule view of our trip east, and then our trip west, along with our accepted bids, and a few thoughts about each area and facility.
* Stockton, CA $39 (2 stars) Ramada Plaza (Pleasant stay – nicely maintained facility)
* Palm Springs, CA $46 (2.5 stars) Marriott Courtyard (A nice hotel, but a bad area for overnight hotels! At least, inexpensive overnights)
* El Paso, TX $44 (2.5 stars) Holiday Inn Express (I messed this bid up – could have gotten it for less! BTW, this is a great renovation of an old hotel – very comfortable and great breakfast.)
* Austin, TX $42 (2 stars) Extended Stay America (worst place on our trip!)
* Lafayette, LA $35 (3 stars) Lafayette Hilton (best bang for the buck of our trip! Lafayette is our fav area along I-10 for combo of attractions, food, and reasonable accommodations – we stayed 3 nights)
* Pensacola, FL $42 (2 stars) Townplace Suites (Wonderful place!)
* Lafayette, LA $38 (3 stars) Crowne Plaza (Another lux property at an economy bid!)
* Galveston, TX $49 (2 stars) La Quinta (Tough bidding area! – this was our “tourist” detour)
* Kerrville, TX $37 (1 star) America’s Best Value Inn (Another tough bidding area – this was my only 1 star bid of the trip, and it was OK!)
* Fort Stockton, TX $48 (1 star) Motel 6 (Not a Priceline bid – Ft Stockton should be avoided by travelers – most nice motels are $60+)
* Las Cruses, NM $38 (2 stars) La Quinta (Nice place, and an interesting history filled area to visit.)
* Tucson, AZ $39 (2.5 stars) Country Inn and Suites (Very nice, with good breakfast and a cookout too!)
* El Centro, CA $39 (1 star) Motel 6 (Tried to stay in Yuma, AZ, tough bidding area! Not a Priceline bid. Fairly new property – nice stay)
* Stockton, CA (tomorrow night)
Several years ago, we made this same trip, and I remember thinking we’d try to hold our nightly lodging cost to $50 +tax, or less – seldom did we ever do that, with most nights costing $55+. By using Priceline, it’s easy to hold your lodging cost under $50, and still avoid the 1 star economy facilities. I will never bid on a Priceline 1 star facility unless that’s all there is (sometimes this is true). That’s not to say I won’t buy a 1 star on my own – but I’ll always give the room a close inspection before committing – you can’t do that on Priceline, and the truth is that most lodging properties put their “problem” rooms on Priceline. And a 3 star problem room is going to be better than a 1 star problem room!
I’ve got a couple of other Priceline rules that you might find helpful. I NEVER bid on a resort room! Rationale? When a resort puts a room on Priceline, they are allowed to have hidden fees included – you won’t find out about those fees until you win the bid! And Priceline will not intercede in such a matter. I say, Bullshit! Another less controversial “hidden fee” are those parking fees charged by some -not all- airport hotels. I’ve only gotten hit by this once, and that was in San Fran, where I was saving so much by staying at an airport hotel that the extra $10 a day for parking was still OK (Airport areas on the Priceline maps are very often the cheapest bidding areas of the entire urban area, mostly because airport hotels are overbuilt and occupancy is often low.).
Another rule that has served me well is that as I look at Priceline’s map of an area I’m interested in, I decide early on what my bid will be for my lowest bidding level, and then I bid that amount for ALL the levels I’m bidding on. And then I start my bidding with the highest level first – Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve nailed a 3 star hotel for the amount I would have accepted a 2 star hotel!
I’ll leave you a few thoughts not always apparent. Priceline often advertises that you can save up to 50% by naming your own price. Let me suggest that statement is less than the truth! I’m sure that as regards their highest star levels, savings of 80% are sometimes realized – but if Priceline were to go around using that in their advertising, customers would soon begin to bid much lower, and the hotels they represent would stop listing with Priceline. But the reality is at certain times of the year, hotels often run at 20% occupancy or lower, and the ability to fill beds at any price is a positive, especially when those same customers may use the hotel restaurant and bar. And I personally know of one popular hotel that gives Priceline rooms to sell even when their occupancy is well above 90% – they have their reasons.
On the other hand, there are times when you, as a Priceline bidder, could do better walking in off the street rather than by using a Priceline bid. Why? Because many hotels that list with Priceline want a continued presence on Priceline, even when they are nearing full occupancy – so they simply up the price of their bid acceptance in the hopes of getting a few high Priceline bidders as guests. This especially happens on the low end, with the economy properties. Be careful.
And lastly, don’t forget that when you secure a Name Your Own Price bid, a page appears showing your winning bid, and any taxes, along with the special fees which Priceline has included as payment for ITS services. No, Priceline won’t tell you exactly how much it is taking, but a rough estimate is about half of that tax/special fee figure, depending on your bid amount. So if you had a winning bid of $35, and you could have booked the room online for $40, you will probably pay more through Priceline for that room than if you had booked through the hotel website. Again, be careful.
I think that Priceline -used wisely- can save you big bucks. But to use it wisely, you need to educate yourself first, and then learn by doing. Hey, it’s fun – kinda like gambling, except when you lose, it doesn’t cost you anything!