Tips for Booking with Priceline and Hotwire
Recently, I made a weekend trip to New York City to see the holiday decorations and do some shopping. The first weeks of December are a busy time in NYC and hotel rooms are pricey. In recent years, I’ve booked the hotel a few days ahead through Priceline or Hotwire. This year, the deals proved even harder to come by. I wound up booking the day before our travel through Priceline.
In theory, Hotwire allows you to book hotel rooms by knowing the hotel’s price, features, star-rating, and general location within the city, but not the exact hotel (you can’t back out if you don’t like the hotel after you learn it). In practice, however, with a little research you can usually identify the hotel by examining the property’s listed amenities and its Tripadvisor rating. Other times, you can narrow it down to a few possible choices. Betterbidding.com maintains very helpful lists of likely candidate hotels for your Priceline or Hotwire offers. I always consult these lists to narrow it down when booking “blind” so I am not caught completely unaware of the hotel I might end up with. Here’s the Priceline hotel list for NYC.
Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” feature provides you with a little less information than Hotwire.com–just the location (by neighborhood of the city) and star rating. Of course, the main difference from Hotwire is that you have the option of trying to name your own price. Priceline will advise you on a suggested low price, but in my experience, these figures can be high and should be viewed with some skepticism. They can be useful in gauging the demand for rooms.
I usually book at least a 3.5 star hotel through Priceline as a little insurance against being left with a really bad 3-star or less hotel. I’ve had friends book 3-star rated Priceline properties who wound up disappointed. While we had originally sought to stay in Midtown, Hell’s Kitchen, or the Times Square area, after a second failed round of bidding, I added Downtown to my list of acceptable neighborhoods. That closed the deal. For a little over $200, we were booked at the 4-star rated Andaz Wall Street (review of this hotel forthcoming soon).
Landing a 4-star hotel (by Priceline’s star rating) when I had agreed to a 3.5 hotel is a happy result of Priceline’s bidding system which makes you lower your star rating or add a neighborhood in the next round of bidding following a failed bid. Had I added Downtown rather than lowering the star rating (I started with 4 stars), I probably would still have been booked at the Andaz. While our rate was still higher than in prior years, it was still a good deal by many measures. Listed rates at the Andaz Wall Street that night were over $300, while the listed rate for the poorly reviewed Hotel Pennsylvania was still higher than what we paid. Scroll down for our best tips.
- Book at least a 3 star hotel, and ideally a 3.5 star or higher. The last thing you want is disappointment in landing a hotel you would not ordinarily accept. After all, once you learn your hotel, you can’t back out of the deal.
- Cross-reference the hotel features/amenities on Hotwire with the lists maintained on Betterbidding.com. These lists are found in the forum section, organized by state.
- Hotwire will indicate the hotel’s Tripadvisor.com reviewers’ rating. This is another great clue that can help you identify the hotel.
- If you are comfortable doing so, book near the last minute. Prices usually fall the closer in time to your stay; hotels do not want rooms to go empty. Prices tend to fall gradually during the week before your stay, and then more significantly the day before your stay. Deals can be even greater when booking on the very day of your stay. In smaller towns and cities, booking so late can be risky as rooms may sell out. In large cities like NYC, your delay will usually work to your advantage, as you’re still very likely to find a suitable room somewhere. Of course, even in NYC and other large cities, be very careful if a marathon or other huge event is in town.
- Careful with the fine print. Some hotels (Orlando area especially) will assess “resort” fees that are over and above the Hotwire.com rate. Hotwire.com does note this in advance of booking, but if you’re not paying attention, you could miss it.
- I recommend bidding on no lower than a 3 star hotel. Like Hotwire, you can’t back out of the deal after learning the identity of the hotel.
- Cross-reference your target neighborhood and star rating with the lists maintained on Betterbidding.com. These lists are found in the forum section, organized by state.
- Priceline only permits one bidding attempt (consisting of several rounds) per e-mail account per day. Every area you add to your list of acceptable areas will allow you one more round of bidding. It’s in your interest to add areas one at a time so you get more opportunities at bidding. Using a different e-mail address works to get around this restriction, but may be a violation of Priceline’s rules. I skimmed the terms and conditions of the Priceline site and could not find where using more than one email address, assuming you’re using a legitimate email address, is explicitly banned. Please proceed with caution.
- Another advanced technique is to purposely add areas (again, one at a time) where you know a hotel with your lowest acceptable star rating is not available. This is essentially like a “free spin” as you haven’t really agreed to lower your standards. After all, there is no hotel of your chosen star rating in that area. One site, theBiddingTraveler.com, will walk you through this process of advanced bidding and can even automate this process for you.
- Like on Hotwire, you probably stand to benefit by booking near the last minute as prices usually fall. Prices tend to fall gradually during the week before your stay, and then more significantly the day before your stay. Deals can be even greater when booking on the very day of your stay.