By Kim Weiss
We’re on a mission at TravelForBoomers to teach you how to do the things we do so that you can travel anywhere you want for free or nearly free. To that end, we’re going to show you exactly how we make the most of Priceline.com, the website that helps users obtain discount rates for travel-related services, including airline tickets, hotels and rental cars.
Priceline is not a direct supplier of these services. Instead, it facilitates its suppliers’ services to Priceline customers. And it offers two basic services: One is fixed-price travel service just like any other travel agency. The other is the “Name Your Own Price” feature.
Frankly, Priceline’s fixed-price service offers nothing special in terms of pricing unless the site happens to posts a mistake rate that you can jump on if you act quickly. But that’s rare. The “Name Your Own Price” feature, however, can save you up to 60 percent on travel expenses — if you know how to use it.
To make the most of Priceline, you must start by becoming familiar with three other sites:
BiddingForTravel and BetterBidding list successful previous Priceline bids for airfares, hotels, and car rentals around the world. Like TripAdvisor, they also list reviews for the hotels in any given city, and by region, and by star rating: five-star is the best, one-star is really bad. Boomers like us want four-star and three-star hotels. If the reviews are good enough, perhaps we’ll accept a two-and-a-half-star hotel from time to time.
To go through the three main steps to using Priceline successfully with you, let’s use an imaginary to, say, Boston, a beautiful and historic city.
Step 1: First, go to Priceline.com and the “Name Your Own Price hotels” and find the various regions listed for the Boston market as well as the top hotel ratings in that zone.
Step 2: Next, open two more windows on your computer and pull up BiddingForTravel.com on one and TripAdvisor.com on the other. On BiddingForTravel, click on “hotels,” then “Mass,” then “Boston.”
Step 3: Check previously accepted prices in the various regions of Boston, then hop over to TripAdvisor to get reviews of those hotels and decide which star level with which you’re comfortable. The Downtown, the Copley, and the Back Bay regions are pretty expensive. So let’s say you determine that the airport region is best for your frugal budget, especially since it comes with shuttle service to the subway stop (“T”) that will take you downtown and return you to the hotel later. (On other trips to Boston, I’ve typically won the Hyatt Harborside Hotel at Boston Logan Airport for $42 per night. It’s a beautiful hotel that costs $129 a night on a typical weekend. Always ask for a waterside room!)
A note about BiddingForTravel: The key to success there is to read the section on bidding and rebidding very carefully. Suppose you want “Zone Airport” and a four-star hotel. From previous bidders, you see that $42 has been won in the past, so your first bid should be: Zone Airport, four-stars, $35. If you don’t win that one, add another zone that only has lower star levels available, and this time bid $37. If there are five zones without a hotel over three stars, you get five free rebids until you get the best price.
Rebidding allows you to start low and move your price higher without changing your parameters. But again: Read these sections of BiddingForTravel carefully before going to Priceline.com where you will actually place your bids. You should even practice this technique with several imaginary cities without hitting the “Buy My Hotel” button. Once you’ve booked on Priceline, there are no refunds.
TravelForBoomers contributors have stayed in Priceline rooms in over 30 U.S. cities, as well as in London, Dublin, Paris, and Rome, and we’ve never been disappointed. The key is to do your research on BiddingForTravel.com or BetterBidding.com first, then double-check the reviews at TripAdvisor.com.
About booking hotels in Europe with Priceline: It’s important to remember to bid one star level higher in Europe for accurate comparisons to U.S. hotels. One bad hotel in a given zone and at a given star rating should force you to bid at a higher level or different zone for that city.
Recently, we discovered a new blog, TheBiddingTraveler, which provides Priceline bidding help tools. We recommend that you check that one out, too.
Bottomline: By using these three main sites — BiddingForTravel.com, BetterBidding.com, and TripAdvisor.com – in conjunction with Priceline.com, you can save 50 percent on your travel expenses for the rest of your travel life.