As a solopreneur, work-related travel is a big investment for my business.
Costs can blow out quickly while I’m on the road so I need to find ways to cut down on spending wherever I can.
A few years ago I started using a hack to book hotels on Priceline. It allows me to reserve hotel rooms well below their rack rate and saves me hundreds of dollars in costs each time I travel for work.
Some examples of the rates I’ve found using this hack include:
$42 / night for a 3-star hotel in the New Orleans - French Quarter
$106 / night for a 3-star hotel in New York - Times Square
I’m sharing the process with you in this article to help you save money the next time you travel for business.
A warning, though. The process takes time to learn. It works best when you book your hotel close to your travel date. Also, Priceline doesn’t reveal the name of the hotel you’ve booked until your bid and payment are successful. If you’re in a rush, or if you need to book your hotel months in advance then this hack, while handy, won’t be of immediate benefit to you.
If you’ve got the time and patience to learn how this hack works, use the three-step the method below. First, though, it’s important for you to understand how people use Priceline the wrong way.
How Regular People (Not You) Use Priceline
Priceline is an online booking system that offers a “Name Your Own Price” system for hotel reservations.
It allows you to:
nominate the city you want to stay in
nominate the area of the city you want to stay in
nominate the star level of the hotel you are looking for
Once you’ve entered this info, you’re invited to Name Your Own Price. Essentially you’re entering a bid on how much you’d like to pay per night in a hotel.
The catch is that the names of the available hotels remain hidden; all you are bidding on is the hotel star level and an area of the city you’d like to stay in.
If your bid is successful your payment is processed and you are emailed the details (name, location) of the hotel you’ll be staying in.
If your bid is unsuccessful (too low) you are locked out of the Priceline system and invited to bid again in 24 hours.
Most people go into Priceline blind. They bid too high – win the hotel – and pay more than they need to. Or, they bid too low and keep trying in 24-hour windows, which is just a waste of time.
It pays—in time and money—to understand how to hack Priceline.
Use the following steps to make sure you’re paying the lowest possible price for a hotel room every single time you book. You might save hundreds of dollars on your next business trip.
Step 1: Research Previous Winning Bids
Crowdsourcing is a beautiful thing. Thrifty travelers regularly post their past winning Priceline bids online.
The first step in hacking Priceline is to visit BiddingTraveler.com and identify the winning bids in the region you’re planning to visit.
Research the winning bids for the location and star level of the hotel you’d like to book. The ‘recent winning bid’ found on BiddingTraveler.com is a benchmark - it helps align your expectations and gives you an idea of where to aim your bids.
Step 2: Research the Bidding Zones on Priceline
Priceline works like this: If your first bid is unsuccessful, you have to wait 24 hours until you can make another attempt to bid – unless you alter the bidding zones or change the hotel star level in the options panel.
Most people don’t realize this, so when their first bid doesn’t land they log out, come back in 24 hours, over-bid, and pay a higher price to book a hotel room.
The trick to keep bidding on Priceline until you get the price and star level you want is to add additional bidding zones that do not contain hotels with your desired star level.
That probably won’t make a lot of sense until you’re using the Priceline booking system, so let me walk you through it with an example.
Say I want to travel to San Francisco for business to meet with Venture Capitalists. I want to stay in the Fisherman’s Wharf area (my desired bidding zone) because when I’m not in meetings I’m going to be eating as much seafood as I possibly can (personal choice).
Going through the initial steps of Priceline, I go to the “Name Your Own Price” section, enter ‘San Francisco’ along with my check-in/check-out dates, and hit ‘bid for hotels’.
Under ‘Choose Where You Want To Stay’, I click on Zone 3, “Fisherman’s Wharf” (the bidding zone where I want to stay). It appears that this zone has hotels in every star level. That’s great!
Under ‘Choose the Star Level For Your Hotel’ I select 4-Star Deluxe (I’m going to need somewhere nice to rest after all that seafood).
Now, here’s the trick:
Before I place my first bid, I uncheck ‘Fisherman’s Wharf’ and individually select each of the other available bidding zones on the list.
I make a note of which bidding zones do not have hotels in the 4-Star Deluxe category. I will tell you why this is important soon.
Japan Town does not contain hotels in the 4-Star Deluxe (or above) star level
Going down the list of bidding zones one by one, I can see that the following areas do not have a single hotel that is 4-Star Deluxe or up:
Civic Center South - Hayes Valley
Japan Town - Civic Center North
Marina - Lombard Street
SFO North - San Bruno
South San Francisco
Step 3: Start Bidding
You are probably wondering why we created a list of bidding zones that don’t have 4-Star Deluxe hotels. These bidding zones will help us to trick Priceline into giving us additional opportunities to re-bid for a hotel.
Remember when I said you have to wait 24 hours before you can re-bid if Priceline declines your first offer? Well, if you add an additional bidding zone after an unsuccessful bid, Priceline allows you to enter a new price and bid again.
The trick is to add a bidding zone that doesn’t contain a hotel star level you want to book. That way you won’t risk winning a bid – and booking a hotel – in a zone you don’t want to stay in.
Let’s go back to the example to understand how this works.
From my research on BiddingTraveler.com (Step 1), I can see that the winning bids in the Fisherman’s Wharf zone of San Francisco ranged from $90 - $140. That’s quite the range, but I am feeling lucky.
For my first bid on Priceline I:
select Fisherman’s Wharf
make a bid of $80
It’s $10 below the lowest winning bid for the Fisherman’s Wharf location, and my greedy self gets rejected.
Fair enough Priceline. You win this round.
For my second bid, I add a new bidding zone, Civic Center South - Hayes Valley, but I keep the star value the same (4-Star Deluxe).
Why add Civic Center South – Hayes Valley if I don’t want to stay there? Well, my research has told me that there are no 4-Star Deluxe hotels in this additional bidding zone. So there is no way my new bid can win a 4-Star Deluxe hotel room in this area of the city.
I make a second bid of $90 and get rejected. Harsh, Priceline.
For my third bid, I add Japan Town (another bidding zone that doesn’t contain a 4-Star Deluxe hotel) and up the bid to $95. Rejected.
I repeat the process of adding a new bidding zone each time while increasing the increments of my bid by an acceptable amount, until Priceline accepts my bid.
Some Parting Advice
Is your brain sore from reading all if this information? I promise you that the process gets easier and much quicker the more you use it. The great thing about this hack is that you can use it for business and personal travel, so it’s a skill worth learning.
In my experience you’ll generally get better savings the closer you book to your check-in date. One week or less is a good time to start bidding.
Also, it pays to check what events are in town during your stay. If you’re looking to stay in San Diego and Comic Con is in town, this hack is unlikely to work as most available rooms will have been booked by Chewbaccas.