People often ask me why I don’t use AirBnB very much when traveling domestically. The honest answer is that when I’m traveling in the U.S., I’m usually able to find a hotel cheaper than an AirBnB. I am able to do this by using a little known travel hack with Priceline.com and their “Name Your Own Price Tool.”
When hotels have unsold nights, they give them to Priceline to sell at a steep discount. With some knowledge of how Priceline’s bidding system works, you can exploit a loophole and snag hotels for up to 60%+ off.
To get you inspired here are some of the hotels I’ve booked using this travel hack:
Rules to “Name Your Own Price” Bidding
- You can pick the star level of the hotel you want, but not the exact hotel.
- Priceline breaks down each city into “zones”. You can pick which zone you want to be in, but not the exact location of the hotel within that zone.
- Once your bid is accepted, the hotel is booked and is non-refundable.
- Bed types are not always guaranteed.
If you are okay with the above, you can exploit a loophole in the bidding system and get hotels for up to 60%+ off!
Now let’s see how it’s done…
As an example, let’s pretend you would like a room in San Diego, California for 9/07 – 9/10.
Step 1: Go to Priceline.com and find the “Name Your Own Price” section
On the Priceline.com home screen, scroll down until you find the “Name Your Own Price” section. It should look something like this:
Click on hotels. You will be prompted for your city and dates. Click submit and you should be taken to a screen that looks like this:
Step 2: Decide which zones would be acceptable for your stay, and what level of hotel you want
For our example, let’s say you would be okay with staying in zones 3, 13 or 18 and the minimum rating for a hotel you would like is 4 stars. Don’t check off your desired zones at this point. You will do that in a later step.
Step 3: Write down which zones don’t have hotels with your desired star-level.
This is where things get fun.
Normally, Priceline doesn’t allow you to bid more than once in a 24 hour period on the same combination of zones and star rating. In order to be able to bid again you are required to either:
- Lower your required star rating.
- Add an additional hotel zone. This is the loophole you can exploit to save hundreds of dollars!
To get around this requirement, you will take note of all the zones that don’t have a hotel in the star class you are looking for. These will be your “dummy zones”. You will use them to gain additional bids. These dummy zones don’t have a hotel that meets the criteria you have set, so you could never be given a hotel in these zones.
You will add exactly one dummy zone to your bid each time your previous bid was denied, allowing us to start off with a low-ball bid and slowly work your way up a few dollars at a time until your bid is accepted at the lowest possible price.
To find out which zones don’t have a hotel with your required rating, select each zone one at a time. This will show you what star-level hotels are in that zone. Write down each zone that doesn’t have a hotel in your desired star class. In the example below you see that zone 24, Sorrento Mesa, doesn’t have any 4 star hotels, so you would write this one down. Do this for each and every zone other than your desired zones.
For our example, you would write down zones 5, 6, 10, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24 as your “dummy zones.” Thats 12 additional free bids!
Pro Tip: If you want even more free bids you can use permutations to increase your number of bids exponentially.
Step 4: Head over to the “Express Deals” section of Priceline to get an idea of what your maximum bid should be.
At the top of the page with the zones you should see a link to Priceline’s “Express Deals” for your search. It looks like this:
Open the “Book a hotel Express Deal” link in a new tab. Here you will see a list of hidden hotels with zones and ratings. Try and find listings for your desired rating and zones and take note of the price they are being offered at. Use the filters to find these listings.
In our example, you would filter out the Express Deals to only show deals in the 3 areas you want to stay in with a 4 star rating. By doing so, I found one deal in La Jolla (zone 13). You may be thinking that’s already a great deal, but you can do better. This tells you that you shouldn’t bid over $117 for your hotel because you could just come back here and book the Express Deal.
Step 5: Start Bidding
Now you should go back to the bidding page with all the hotel zones and select your desired zones and star rating. Knowing your max bid and that you have 13 total bids (including the original bid), you can work backwards to figure out how much you should increment each bid.
Priceline sets the following minimum price’s for each level of hotel:
- 1 Star – $15
- 2 Star – $17
- 2.5 Star – $19
- 3 Star – $25
- 3.5 Star – $25
- 4 Star – $40
- 4.5 Star – $40
- 5 Star – $55
I think these are a good place to start the bidding unless the price you saw on the express deal was significantly higher than this. For the example, knowing that you will start your bidding at $40 and you have a maximum bid of $117, you can do a little math to figure out how much you should increment each bid.
- $117 max bid – $40 starting bid = $77
- $77 / 12 additional bids = ~$6 increments
Step 6: Getting your bid accepted
One of three things could happen each time you bid.
- Your bid is accepted.
- Congrats! You probably just saved a ton on a hotel! Your card will be charged and the booking is non-refundable.
- Your bid is declined.
- Add one of your dummy zones and increment your bid by your chosen amount. Submit your new bid.
- Priceline makes a counteroffer.
- If Priceline makes a counteroffer to your bid, always decline. However, this is a good sign. When Priceline counteroffers, it means you are close to getting your bid accepted. At this point I would recommend cutting your bid increments in half and continuing to bid.
Step 7: Enjoy your hotel for pennies on the dollar!
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