Everyone wants to be able to travel more, or at least have the option of doing so. But for most of us regular 9-5 worker bees, the cost is what gets in the way.
There are thousands of discount sites out there on everything from hotels to cars to airfare, but how many people actually spend the time to sit down and take hours going through one by one? For most, it’s too much of a hassle, it’s frustrating and in the end we just end up going to whatever random site we were last on anyway and going with that.
What I want to tell you today, is that finding great deals on online travel site is absolutely possible. If you think efficiently and work effectively then you can be ready to take off on your next holiday in a few hours’ time.
Figure Out How to Name Your Own Price
Beyond airfare, typically the next biggest expense for any holiday is accommodation. Depending on how you travel, you might be ok crashing in a hostel or on some strangers couch; for some trips where I’m trying to stretch a buck its cool, for others I am not ok with that, so I need a hotel.
For this, unless I’m working off of a deal from one of those ‘exclusive’ hotel mailing list sites, I am leveraging the Priceline Name Your Own Price feature. About 93.86% of the time, this works for me.
I have used this feature in spots all over the US, as well as in Puerto Rico and Canada. So it does work, I assure you.Recently, I just used it to get a stay at the Kitano Hotel in midtown Manhattan for $150, which came to just about $200 once taxes and room fees were tallied. If you check out the reservation section of the Kitano site now, it shows a superior room 1 king bed for $600 USD. Now that is quite the savings. To be fair, I was not in NYC during the summer, so I did check prices a year out from when I did stay, which was March. The price for that same superior room 1 king bed was $299 for March 2013.
So, worst case scenario, I still saved myself $100, which I promptly spent on 2 cocktails at some faux trendy Manhattan bar. Hey, I never said I was great at finding deals outside of travel! And best case scenario I saved myself $400.
Now you want to know how Name Your Own Price Works, I assume.
Alright, I’ll tell you.
The key is not go in there and willy-nilly just pick a number and start clicking areas, I promise you will end up staying in west Podunk for 5% off the normal hotel price.
Get on Priceline and then open it again in another tab on your browser, I also open TripAdvisor as well on yet another tab, this is because most of these “we’re not going to tell you the name of the hotel until you start bidding” sites will use an established source like TripAdvisor for their rankings.
A lot of other people who practice Priceline hacking also check out some of the sites out there devoted to the concept, where you will actually be able to go into some forums, on sites like Better Bidding or Bidding for Travel and see what some recent wins were, at the very least you can get an idea of what the going rates are shaping up to be.This important, because you only get a limited number of tries using the Name Your Own Price feature, so you don’t want to blow them all doing something stupid. I have done that.
Now you should have determined which hotel you ideally would like to stay at, or maybe two, usually they will be in a similar area, of a similar price and similar star range. And this works for anything, I have used it for 4 star hotels and 2 star hotels, the technique is the same.Once I can get a good grip on which hotels I like, I then go and cross check on TripAdvisor, generally they will have the same rankings that Priceline gives them. I will also double check with a site like Hotwire, because they will also have very similar rankings, and they feature the Hot Rates portion of the site where they will give you their special price, but also the price that other sites are showing the hotel at (including Hotwire itself) at the standard price.
Using this technique is also a good way to help figure out what hotel you are really working with.
So on a recent trip to Victoria, British Columbia I wanted to stay a moderately priced hotel. I knew I would be doing a lot of more expensive activities in the area, so I wanted to save even more on my lodging.
So, I followed the tips above and got my ‘guess’ on what the hotel would be down to two choices. Luckily, as is usually the case, both the hotels were totally acceptable, had good reviews on both Priceline and TripAdvisor, were similarly priced and were in the area I was looking for. I’d be fine with staying at either.
Now, the bidding. Here is where you have to be careful, because for each amount you bid, you must have different boxes clicked each time, meaning you cannot bid a higher amount again with all the same boxes clicked, something has got to give. So for example, say I only want to stay in downtown Victoria, well then there is no point on clicking on any other boxes, because I will end up somewhere I don’t want to be. So just click the downtown Victoria box.Next, you pick the star level. So, since you already know what hotel(s) you are ok with stay at, just pick that star level. At this point it is very tempting to put in 4 stars and $35 dollars (if you are not looking for a 4 star), but have a little bit of discipline, ok?
Ok, now it’s the thinking part, entering in your bid. Since you know what the actual room price is, and you know what the comparable Hotwire Hot Rates discount is, this gives you a starting point.
So you can approach this a few ways, generally Priceline will make you wait 24 hours if they reject your bid for being too low, if you are on a tight schedule, this is something to consider. Or you can try doing a few Priceline hacks like deleting your cookies and refreshing your browser to re-enter the same search criteria. Or, give yourself another bid by clicking the box next to an area or a star where you know for a fact they don’t have a hotel.
For example, many airports might not have 4 star lodging, so if you are looking in a city, at 4 stars, downtown and bid too low, and you know for sure there is no 4 star lodging at the airport, then expand your search area to the airport and up your bid. Since you know there are no hotels there that meet your criteria it’s basically a free bid for you. This takes a bit more research, but I have been able to get 4 or 5 extra bids by using this technique. But you have to be really, really sure that you know there are no other hotels in that star range or area, because if you screw up, you will be booked at the 1 star inn next to the airport runway.
Anyway, back to bidding. Start off by being reasonable, you will not get a 4 or 5 star hotel in a big city like New York or LA for $50 a night, so don’t start by bidding there. If you are doing a last minute search, then I’d say you have a bit more flexibility on getting a lower price, simply because they are looking to get bodies in the rooms.
A good rule of thumb for me is that I start my bidding at least 50% off, and sometimes as low as 60%. Usually the lower priced hotels will be more likely to bite, but if you can secure a 4 star in a great location for 40% off listing price, I’d still say that’s a pretty good get.
Back to my trip. I had narrowed my hotel choices down to two. So into Name Your Own Price and I picked the area and the star level (which was 3 stars). I knew from researching the other sites my best shots at the hotels, so for an extra layer of security I actually went to those hotels websites and entered my info to see what they were booking at for prices. So, on both the sites, it was $100 per night, and on Hotwire Hot Rates it was $79, so I knew I couldn’t go too crazy and bid super low. I tried $50 on my first bid.
No go. I then added an area that I knew didn’t have that hotel star level and jumped my bid to $55.
So, a hotel that would have been $300 for three nights, plus tax bringing up to about $340 total, was purchased by me for $197. Essentially, I got one night free with my bidding. And since I’m doing the trip with a friend, it’s just under $100 each for the room, total, which is like getting 2 nights free.
As you can see, it works. And once you get the hang of it, you can get sort of a feel for where the bidding is going. When I first started bidding, I usually had to do a ton of bids, over a few days until I got my price. Now, I can get there generally in about 1-2 bids.
Technically, some say you don’t actually want the first bid to be taken, because technically it means you bid a little bit too high. But, there’s an opportunity cost in that, and I am rarely upset if I get the bid on the first try, because I am still getting the price I wanted.
So, give it a shot and see. At this point I rarely spend any time on other sites besides just a cursory glance to see if there is some amazing deal out there. I know I can do just as well with my bidding techniques for a fraction of the time and aggravation.