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April 2, 2005

Priceline for the Timid IV: Final Steps Before Bidding

The easiest mistake you can make with Priceline is to get carried away. It’s all too human to get caught up in the drive to win a bid, now. That's the point, and Priceline counts on that for revenue. This last research is to try and keep that impulse to overbid in check.

Know Your Budget. Really. What can you really spend? Account for all costs. A Priceline bid includes not only the actual bid amount, but taxes and a service fee bundled together. On a $75 bid in Washington DC for two nights, the combined taxes and fees are $29.28, making $75/night actually $90/night. Also, don't forget expenses that might be covered in a normal reservation, for instance a free breakfast or internet access that may or may not be included in the Priceline rate.

Are there other good offers? Check a few hotel discounters as well as the travel boards. Here just a few possibilities; the last three are particularly worth trying for European destinations:

Hotel chains themselves often have good offers. Just to show some examples for a European vacation, Scandic Hotels has summer deals right now for Northern Europe, Accor Hotels often has last minute deals and other promotions as well. you can find them by going to the hotel's site, or they might be listed at other travel sites - try Better Bidding's Hotel Deals Forum or Smarter Travel. Smarter Travel also has a permanent link for up to 20% off rates on Choice Hotels. This can be a good option for a cancelable backup. Trip Advisor is also a great place to do comparison shopping and look up traveler reviews.

What you’re looking to figure out is:

This will help you get an idea of your ceiling bid. I value control of the process at 20-25%, so my ceiling would be about that much less than the cost of a desired situation, or less if my budget won't allow it.

Make a cancelable backup

If your travel dates are well in advance and it is not a busy period, you may be able to skip this step. Otherwise, from your research find a hotel within your budget that allows a no-penalty cancellation and make a reservation. I didn’t make one in Philadelphia, but I did make a backup reservation at the Melrose in Washington. The Melrose at $109 a night has good reports on Trip Advisor and is close to the Kennedy Center. With taxes, the room comes out to $125 a night. At close to three months from the date of travel, I should be lowballing, even if it takes repeated bidding. The Melrose is a desireable choice, so I want to bid aggressively: Why save only 15% for a hotel I might not have as good a trip in? At this point I won’t go above $75/night for a 4* hotel. Why even that high? Because if I get a 4* hotel in Georgetown at that price, my guess is it will be the Melrose.

A cancelable backup is more important in Birmingham as there’s a chance Priceline might not come through. I made one at a Holiday Inn Express for £69 the first night and £59 the next two nights. It sounds no more than acceptable and is more than I want to spend for a budget hotel, but it means I have a fall back. It also gives me a number – at today’s rate £187 total is $353.41, or $118 per night. It's too far out to start getting desperate, but closer to the actual dates I will bid above these figures.

Be sure to keep notes of your findings. I use a spreadsheet to jot notes.

Finally! You’re ready to bid!

Posted by Leigh Witchel at April 2, 2005 12:43 PM

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