Demystifying Priceline:
A Guide to "Naming Your Price"

by Linda Mac, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the July 12, 2005, Issue #303 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is not meant to suggest that AllEarsNet® endorses Priceline.com. It is for informational purposes ONLY in response to reader requests for information on Priceline.com. Make sure you know what you are doing and agreeing to BEFORE you use Priceline.com.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Priceline.com is an online booking service that allows you to "name the price" you want to spend for flights, hotels, and car rentals. The premise is that you can bid on the service you want. If the vendor accepts your bid, you can save yourself some money.

ALL EARS® Team Member Linda Mac is a regular Priceline.com user and she offers the following advice for anyone venturing into the bidding arena:

Priceline Hotel Bidding

Priceline.com promises you an easy way to save 50 percent to 60 percent off booking your hotel directly. First, select an area (or "zone" as Priceline calls it) in which you would like to stay. Next, select a quality level that will satisfy you. Do you want to stay at the 1-star Econo Lodge or at a 5-star resort? Pick your dates, then name your price! And, finally, wait for Priceline.com to let you know if any hotels that meet your specifications have accepted your bid.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well, it is and it isn't. So before you whip that credit card out, read on.

It IS pretty simple if you do your homework first (I can't stress this enough) and can be flexible regarding your hotel location. You can start saving your hard-earned money on hotels -- and you will love Priceline.

On the other hand, it's not so simple, because you really must do your homework first. Did I mention that yet?

STEP 1

First of all, know your zones. That is, know what areas are in a Priceline zone before you bid. Your idea of "Walt Disney World Vicinity" may be very different from Priceline's. The names of the zones can be misleading, so check the Priceline map. A few years back the WDW zone consisted of the Downtown Disney hotels and only those in the Lake Buena Vista area. Now the WDW zone includes Hwy. 192, also known as Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, which involves more driving and traffic hassles. If I am staying offsite, I know I would rather be staying in Lake Buena Vista than out on Hwy. 192, halfway to the Wal-mart Super Center, but those hotels out that way are now included in the Disney zone. Priceline provides maps of each of the different Orlando zones so make good use of them. The bidding zones for Orlando are Walt Disney World Vicinity, Universal Studios-SeaWorld, West Disney Area, Florida Mall, Kissimmee, Maitland-Altamont Springs, Orlando Airport, Orlando East and Winter Park. Remember, with Priceline you are not bidding on just one hotel. If you only want Gaylord Palms or the Walt Disney World Swan (yes, it does come up from time to time) or the Comfort Inn in Lake Buena Vista, then Priceline is not for you.

STEP 2

The next part of your homework is to figure out exactly what quality level of a hotel will make you happy. Remember, you're on vacation to have a good time -- you don't want to be unhappy in a low-quality hotel that you saved a few bucks on. The range for the Orlando area is as follows: 1 Star Economy, 2 Stars Moderate (not to be confused with Disney's moderate hotels high standards), 2 1/2 Stars Moderate Plus, 3 Stars Upscale, and the Resort Level (formerly known as 4 and 5 Star Level in the Orlando area).

STEP 3

Now decide which dates you want to stay. Big Warning: Priceline is unforgiving when it comes to modifying/ canceling reservations after a hotel has accepted your bid and Priceline has charged your credit card in full. In simple words: NO REFUNDS! I have seen a reservation canceled once or twice, but it just about takes an Act of Congress to change a hotel reservation or get your money back. So make sure your dates are written in stone (or that you are willing to forfeit your money). On a more positive note, Priceline now offers travel insurance through a third-party company called American Home Assurance Company for an additional $5.00 per night per room. Of course, basically only illness and death are covered. (Maybe that's not such a positive note!)

STEP 4

Now that you know where, when and quality level, it is time to make your offer or bid. But how much? The first thing you need to know is how much the hotels cost in the category and area you want. This is very easy to do with all the Internet travel sites available these days (although I've read warnings that you shouldn't use Expedia or Hotels.com in your research, as they offer substantially discounted rooms already). Figure out an average price and then start your bid at 40 percent to 60 percent less than the average. The more time you have until your vacation dates the lower you should start. The final step before submitting your bid is to review it for accuracy. Prior to submitting your bid, Priceline has a specific page that will show everything you have entered and the total your credit card will be charged if your bid is accepted.

Priceline will email you whether you win or lose. If you win, your credit card will be immediately charged for the price of the room, taxes and Priceline fees. You will see the tax and fees on the reservation review page before you bid, however.

If your bid is accepted, you will be given your hotel info. Print your confirmation page at this time. And as with any reservation, always confirm it directly with the hotel a few days prior to arrival and take your confirmation sheet with you. Other than that, all that's left to do is have a great time!

If your bid is rejected, you can place another higher bid 72 hours later. If you change anything except the price -- such as dates, zones or quality levels -- you can rebid immediately. Once you learn your way around Priceline, you can take a chance and create your own "Free Rebids" to raise your bid price without waiting 72 hours. But these are based on previous hotels and prices reported by other users and involve some risk taking. For example: I know that there has never been a "Resort Level" hotel reported in the Kissimmee zone. If I have been rejected for a WDW zone "Resort Level," I could add the Kissimmee zone to my bid and up the price. Is it possible that I could end up in a "Resort Level" hotel in the Kissimmee zone? Yes, because Priceline adds new hotels all the time and occasionally changes the zones. Historically, though, my chances of ending up in Kissimmee are pretty slim. There are websites on which Priceline users report the results of their bidding, which I find invaluable.

Did I mention that Priceline is a little slick in their efforts to get you to raise your bid? They give inflated average prices for the hotels and always tell you that your bid is too low and probably won't be accepted. Ignore that! This is Priceline trying to make more money. Remember, the hotel sets the price it will accept -- anything over that amount is Priceline's profit. However, if your bid does not meet the minimum that Priceline has set in a given category it will not accept the bid. So if you are offering $20 a night for a "Resort" you are wasting your time. I recommend a minimum of $50 to $60 for a "Resort Level" -- that is low, but a good starting place, in my opinion.

A final few warnings and tips about using Priceline:

-- You are only guaranteed a room with one double bed and you may be given a smoking room. More than two people in your party could pose a problem.

-- No refunds or changes are permitted once the bid has been accepted.

-- If your hotel has a hotel/resort fee for parking, wall safes, etc., it generally is collected once you arrive at the hotel, so keep that in mind when deciding on how much to bid.

--You may have heard of Priceline "Bonus Money." What's Bonus Money? In short, it is a thing of the past. Occasionally, Priceline will email certain users an offer that includes Bonus Money you can add to your bid. For example, if you receive a $10 single-use Bonus Money offer and you want to bid $50 for a hotel, you would actually only bid $40 and Priceline would add the $10. In the past, Bonus Money was given out very freely if you applied for a Discover Card, signed up for long-distance phone service, or, my favorite, used your American Express card to pay for your bid. This offer was reusable and would add $20 a night to your room bid. I didn't have an AmEx card, but someone (not me) figured out that if you opened an American Express Debit Card account you could use the Bonus Money over and over again until the promotion expired. Those were the days!

Examples of Walt Disney World Vicinity Hotels that have accepted Priceline.com reservations in the past:

Resort Level
The Hilton at Downtown Disney
Wyndham Palace Resort & Spa
The Swan and Dolphin
Gaylord Palms

3 Star Hotels
The Grosvenor
Radisson Resort Parkway
Best Western Lake Buena Vista

2 1/2 Star Hotels
Clarion Hotel Maingate
Ramada Plaza Gateway
Doubletree Lake Buena Vista

2 Star Hotels
Ramada Eastgate
Comfort Inn Palm Parkway
Fairfield Inn Marriott Village

1 Star Hotels
Travel Lodge Hotel Maingate
Park Inn and Suites
Econolodge Polynesian

Remember that when you bid on Priceline.com for car rental, airline tickets and hotel rooms, you are agreeing to follow their Terms and Conditions. Make sure you fully understand them prior to bidding, because all reservations are nonrefundable, non-transferable and non-cancelable.

The information above is just an overview of Priceline and its "Name Your Price" process. Since things change regularly at Priceline, please read the current Priceline.com Rules and Regulations before bidding.

For details on using Priceline.com to bid on car rentals and airfares, visit: http://allears.net/pl/priceline.htm

Happy Bidding and Safe Trips for everyone!

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Floridian Linda Mac, a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World and other Orlando-area theme parks, is a regular contributor to ALL EARS® and Allears.net who also helps out with the monthly Souven-EAR Shopper featurette.


-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-

Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.