Using Priceline.com

NOTE: This page is for informational purposes ONLY in response to reader requests on Priceline.com. Make sure you know what you are doing and agreeing to BEFORE you use Priceline.com. This page is not meant to suggest that AllEars® endorses Priceline.com.

Priceline.com is an online booking service that allows you to Name Your Own Price® that 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 offers the following advice for anyone venturing into the bidding arena (updated Feb. 2008 by Lisa Berton):

PRICELINE HOTEL BIDDING

Priceline.com promises you an easy way to save up to 50% 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 your bid has been accepted by any hotels that meet you specifications.

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 (this can't be stressed enough) and can be flexible regarding your hotel location. You can start saving your hard-earned money on hotels -- and you will love Priceline.

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 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. 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. The newer WDW Zone also includes I-4 all the way down to County Road 532 (Osceola Pike Line Road).
For a better idea of the area, let's consider exits off of Interstate 4. Exit 67 will lead you to Downtown Disney, EPCOT, and Animal Kingdom. Exit 58 is CR-532/Kissimmee. Exits 64A and 64B lead you to US-192 in opposite directions.

Priceline provides maps of each of the different Orlando zones so make good use of them. The bidding zones for Orlando are Disney World Vicinity, Downtown Orlando, Kissimmee, Maitland - Altamonte Springs, Orlando Airport (MCO), Orlando East, Sandlake Corporate Park, Universal Studios - Sea World, West Disney Area, Winter Garden, 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 Comfort Inn in Lake Buena Vista, then Priceline is not for you.

Step 2

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 good time, not 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 Star Moderate (not to be confused with Disney's moderate hotels high standards), 2 ½ Star Moderate Plus, 3 Stars Upscale, 4 Star Deluxe and the Resort Level.

Step 3

Now decide what dates you want to stay. BIG WARNING: Priceline is unforgiving when it comes to modifying/cancelling 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 cancelled 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, though, Priceline now offers travel insurance through a third-party company called American Home Assurance Company. Of course, basically only illness or 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? First thing you need to know is how much the hotels are in the category and area you want. This is very easy to do with all the internet travel site 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%-60% less than the average. The more time you have until your vacation dates the lower I would 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, which are no longer a flat fee of $5.95. You will know 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 and have great time.


If your bid is rejected you can try the exact same bid again, 24 hours later.
If you change anything but the price such as dates, zones or quality levels you can rebid immediately or once you learn your way around, you can take a chance and create your own "Free Rebids" in order to raise your bid price without waiting 24 hours but these are based on previous hotels and prices reported by other users and involves some risk taking. Here is an 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 but historically my chances of ending up in Kissimmee are pretty slim. There are websites that Priceline users report the results of their bidding which I find invaluable when bidding.

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 IT. This is Priceline trying to make more money. Remember, the hotel sets the price they 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 they 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 Disney World Vicinity Hotels that have accepted Priceline.com reservations in the past:

Resort Level
Gaylord Palms
Hilton at Walt Disney World Resort
ChampionsGate by Omni
Hyatt Grand Cypress

3 Star Hotel
Best Western Lake Buena Vista
Holiday Inn Main Gate East
Sheraton Safari

2 ½ Star Hotels
Doubletree Lake Buena Vista
Orlando Sun Resort by Lexington
Hampton Inn Lake Buena Vista

2 Star Hotels
Fairfield Inn Marriott Village
Fun Spots Hotel at Fountain Park (formerly Ramada)
Best Western Lakeside

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

Priceline Name Your Own Price® Car Rentals

Car Rentals are bid on in the same manner as airline tickets and hotel room, by location and car category. In this case the categories are designated by automobile size. Be sure to check the major car rental companies website where you can find their on-line specials and last minute deals.

The first step at Priceline.com is to enter your city and dates, pick-up and drop-off times and Car Type you would like to bid on. The Car types are Economy, Compact, Mid-Size, Standard, Full-Size, Premium, Luxury, Convertible, Minivan, and SUV. Priceline uses the following 5 major car rental companies, Hertz, Avis, National, Alamo or Budget Car Rental. The next choice will be your pick up location in your selected city. We will use Orlando so in this case, you will have two locations to choose from, similar to zones. You can choose from Orlando International Airport or a Zone named Downtown Disney, which is just outside of Downtown Disney according to the map. It should be called the Lake Buena Vista Zone instead. Keep in mind that you will be required to return the car to the same location you picked it up from.

Next, you will be asked for your flight info, which is optional, and the driver's name and age at time of pick up. The named driver must pick-up the rental car. The driver will be required to present a valid driver's license and a valid credit card in his/her name with a minimum of $100 available credit as a security deposit on the vehicle.

If you are under 25, there are some additional restrictions. With the exception of New York, you must be 21 at the time of picking up your car. If you are between the ages of 21 and 24 you will be charged a "Young Renter Fee" per day. These fees typically start at $20 per day and can be as much as $50 per day for high cost locations or more desirable car types. For example, a rental car that normally costs $30 per day could cost an underage driver at least $50 per day. With Priceline.com, you should include these additional fees in your offer price. If your request is accepted, you will not be charged any additional Young Renter Fees at the rental counter.

Please note: All drivers will be required to present a valid driver's license in order to pick up a vehicle and each driver's age will be verified at the rental counter. If the driver's age was misrepresented during the offer process, the driver will be subject to underage fees at the rental counter.

When placing your bid keep in mind that it is a per-day bid, not a total. Car rentals are based on 24-hour periods. As with any car rental if you pick it up at 10 am and return the car 4 days later at 2 pm will be charged a 5th day. This will happen with bids on Priceline.com. When using "Name Your Own Price®", if you do not return the car on time, the extra day will be charged to your credit card at the full rack rate or worse yet since you did not follow the Terms and Conditions you agreed to with Priceline.com, the entire reservation could be charged at full rack rate. This also applies to returning the car a day earlier. This happened to me with a Hertz Priceline.com rental; I flew to Wisconsin to spend a few days visiting relatives and then planned drive back to Orlando for a few days with a friend. To make a long story short, we left at 3 pm Friday rather than 7 am the following day. When I dropped the car off, at the airport, my $60, 3 day Priceline.com rental turned into a $400 Priceline.com rental!!!! After an hour, I finally spoke to someone with some common sense and they agreed to hold my paperwork to 12:01 am that night and scan the car in at that time. That was great till two months later, my credit card was charged for a parking ticket that was issued 6 hours after I dropped the car off and 20 miles from the airport. Hmmm?? You should have heard the reaction from my credit card company when I disputed the charge.

It is not advisable to bid for a car rental too far in advance because unless you are traveling at an extremely busy time of year such as Christmas week at Disney, car rental prices normally start high and than go down as time passes. No sense in being locked into a high non-refundable rate as the prices come down a month before your trip.

If your bid is not accepted, you must wait 24 hours to attempt the exact same bid. If your bid is accepted, print out your confirmation sheet to present to the car rental company at time of pick-up and always call to confirm your reservation several days prior to pick-up. Be sure to check with the individual company regarding returning the car with a full tank of gas. If you think gas prices are high now, you should see the outrageous amount per gallon rental car companies charge. And agreeing to pay a flat fee to return the car with any amount of gas is not usually a good deal. At this time, the prices of gas at Disney World are lower than most of the gas stations just outside the property.

And finally, your offer price does not include vehicle liability, collision or personal accident coverage for your rental car. You should determine if you have insurance coverage prior to pick-up by checking you own automobile insurer. Additional insurance can be purchase at the rental counter.

By bidding on Priceline.com for Car Rental, Airline Tickets and Hotel Rooms you are agreeing to follow their Terms and Conditions so please be sure to fully understand them prior to bidding as all reservations are non-refundable, non-transferable and non-cancelable.

Name Your Own Price® Airline Tickets

While you can save up to 40% biding on Name Your Own Price® Priceline tickets, I feel the research time involved, the restrictions, unknown flight times and connections far out weigh the potential savings. In this day and age of airline seat prices changing almost daily because of increased completion by low cost carriers on most routes, Priceline may not work for most vacation travelers. But for the adventurous budget minded travelers out there, I will give you an overview of the Priceline process for Airline Tickets. Remember: All Priceline Name Your Own Price® tickets are round-trip, non-refundable, non-transferable (period) and non-cancelable and all information below applies to US Domestic travel only.

Find the carriers who fly your chosen route - This can be accomplished by searching several web travel sites such as Orbitz and SideStep, but remember some of the low cost carriers (like Southwest) will not come up through these sites. After selecting a few or all airlines that service your route, go directly to the airlines' websites and price the fares for dates you are interested in. This is a much more accurate assessment of what is available and the cost. For example, Northwest has a RT ticket price that will fly you from Logan Airport in Boston, MA to Orlando International, stopping in Memphis, TN for a total of $226.00 but SideStep lists the cheapest RT non-stop flight from Boston to Orlando on Jetblue at $179. It pays to do your homework first, regardless of where you purchase an airline ticket.

Placing your bid -- Now that you have established the going rates, consider that by bidding for a Priceline airline ticket you agree to depart between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. and to have up to 2 connections each way that could last up 3 hours and not receive any Frequent Flyer Miles, it is time to place your bid. Once you begin to place your bid amount on the first screen, Priceline will insert the taxes and fees. Passenger facility charges, a September 11th security fee, domestic passenger segment fees, and possible baggage fees are an additional cost.

The rule of thumb here is if the tax is less than $6.95 and the Priceline fee is under $20 and your bid is accepted you will be on a non-stop flight because of the way airport fees are charged in segments. A non-stop flight is 2 segments and with one stop it would be 4 segments and so on. When I entered several different bids ($75, $100 and $150) for my Milwaukee-Orlando RT flight, the taxes were approx $38 and that tells me at least one stop. If a bid of $150 was accepted I would be immediately charged $194.75 that is a good savings if your vacation time schedule allows you to possibly lose two full days at your destination. For this reason, you should never use Priceline's Name Your Own Price® for weekend getaways. You may be given a departure time of 10 p.m. when beginning your trip and on the day you return your flight may depart at 6 a.m.! While Priceline guarantees no more than two connections (maximum three hours each), when placing a bid on the Priceline page, it states only one connection each way. Besides, there is not a guarantee the airlines will be on time.

And finally, while flying via Priceline tickets from Wisconsin to Florida (or any other route), it is possible that the connection could be in Los Angeles, Boston or Dallas! Or you could have a simple connection in Atlanta (if that is ever simple) and continue on to Florida, but I would just like to share all the possible scenarios before you bid. This way you can consider if the money saved though Priceline is worth it.

Travel Insurance is available for $15 per ticket and is worth checking out.

For the all the brave souls who wish to bid - If your bid is accepted, you will have an electronic ticket for your trip and your credit card will be charged immediately. If your bid is rejected, you must wait 24 hours to bid again for the same dates and airports to increase your bid or you can start to play with alternative airports just as you can do with hotel zones.

To Recap- Know the airlines that fly your route, price available flights directly with several airline websites. Consider the dollar savings vs. the restrictions and unknowns when bidding thru Priceline. Loss of Frequent Flyer Miles alone will reduce your savings as well. And finally, the going rate today for an airline ticket may change dramatically tomorrow. Remember, airline prices change day to day and if they drop the price, there are no refunds with Priceline.com

The information above is just an overview of Priceline's Name Your Own Price® airline tickets. Since things change regularly at Priceline, please read the current Priceline.com Rules and Regulations before bidding.

Happy Bidding and Safe Trips for everyone!