March 22, 2007

Priceline Caveats

In the comments Mitch Stein wrote about his frustration renting a car from Priceline.

Let me give you the other side of Priceline. I booked a rental car specified on Priceline as an SUV. I thought I was getting a great deal until I found out that some rental car companies have 5 categories of SUV. An "SUV" rental could be for a GEO Tracker for all Priceline cares. The best part is that when there was a death in my family and I had to change my pickup day to 2 days later I forfeited my 177$ rental fee AND THE CAR. Yes because I wanted to pick it up 2 days later and only use it for 3 days instead of 5 days I lost the whole thing, the car and the money! These people use death and emergencies as a big, fat, free profit item! Never again!

It sucks to have that kind of experience and it could happen using Priceline not only for car rentals. If you try to check in a day late on a Priceline reservation you will find the reservation has been cancelled entirely. Also, Priceline defines its own categories. What you think of as a four star hotel may not be what they give you.

My best suggestion to Mitch is, if you have not already gone beyond talking to a customer service rep on the phone, write a letter. You may get a better response higher up the ladder. Priceline has refunded money in limited cases because of emergencies. I was scheduled to be in Birmingham AL, on the night Katrina hit. I called Priceline the same day; they refunded my purchase with no arguments and no penalties.

For others considering bidding on Priceline, caveat emptor. Like any cut-rate seller, Priceline is not something to use without caution and having a good handle on the product.

I would not use Priceline for air travel. I used it occasionally a few years ago, mostly for NYC-YYZ flights; the small savings are not to me worth losing control over schedule (and the airline frequent flyer miles on longer trips).

I haven’t yet used Priceline for car rentals. There are enough competitive deals out there that I haven’t felt it worth it. For instance, I’m renting with National Car in ONT tomorrow; a coupon for one weekend day free will result in a better price than I think I could get on Priceline.

Hotel deals on Priceline in the last year have gotten steadily less appealing. For a solo traveler, Priceline is usually still the best deal, but I would recommend researching all non-opaque options first. I will be heading to Chicago again for a weekend in April. I may use Priceline, but I also have back up reservations at the Palmer House or the Swissotel for $79 and $99 respectively. Both are cancelable; Priceline would need to beat them by at least 20-25% for me to use it instead.

Will you be satisfied with the product Priceline offers? You’ve contracted to get:

A hotel anywhere in the mapped area Priceline indicates.

A room that sleeps two adults with any bedding configuration the hotel chooses. I felt that the one Priceline commercial that I have seen on TV was misleading. It is not always “the same room.” You’re not just buying surplus inventory on Priceline. You are often buying distressed inventory. Recent Priceline stays at Hilton family hotels in SF, Boston and Philadelphia have all yielded “Priceline rooms” – a room near an elevator, with a handicap accessible bathroom or some other feature that might make it less desirable to a standard traveler. Older landmark hotels such as the Westin St. Francis in SF or the Boston Park Plaza give their smaller rooms with double beds only to Priceline guests. They sleep two adults, so it fulfills their contract. I’ve been in those rooms; they’re just fine for a single traveler but it would be a very different story for two travelers who are not an intimate couple. And there’s not much to be done besides pay for an upgrade.

At the quality level or better that you indicated. That level is determined by Priceline not by guidebook ratings but by a list of standard facilities, but it’s their call not yours. You can argue up to a point, but back up your argument with pictures - I recall a woman getting a refund on a bid that turned out to be a fleapit hotel that way.

Generally non-smoking, but not guaranteed. I’ve infrequently gotten a smoking room instead of a non-smoking room; I think the trend on Priceline would be even more difficult for smokers. The Hilton Garden Inn in Philadelphia is a non-smoking hotel; they will charge you a $200 cleaning fee if you smoke in the rooms. A smoker who gets it on Priceline is out of luck.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 3:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 4, 2007

Four nice things about San Francisco

Tina LeBlanc – 42 year old mother of two. Danced the lead in Divertimento No. 15 on Friday, a lead in both The Dance House and Blue Rose on Saturday night and a lead in Artifact Suite on Sunday matinee. Looks fabulous. We hate her.

Artifact Suite – for someone as ambivalent about Forsythe as I am, these are strong words, but it’s the best ballet of the post-Balanchine/Ashton era. The first part is gimmicky with a fire curtain dropping with a clunk to the audience’s giggles, but the second part is an atomic age ballet blanc of extraordinary power. It’s on program one on Feb 8 and matinee and evening on the 10th. If you can see it, don’t miss it.

EOS Wine Bar
– My friend Don and I went to dinner there before Saturday evening’s performance so I didn’t drink, but the food there is marvelous. It’s “fusion” which is more gimmicky as a concept than a result. The food is delicious, roasted Brussels sprouts with sesame, winey dumplings stuffed with shiitake in mushrooms, sea bass and especially black pepper filet with eggplant.

Opal Hotel – A very solid hotel bargain. $44 a night on Priceline got me a room. The décor is uninspiring (mmm, tan!) but the rooms are clean and the bed is comfortable. The price includes in room wired access (bring a long Ethernet cable), a fitness center with only barbells but good Lifecycle cardio equipment, and a convenient if uninteresting breakfast. The staff is helpful even if the room I got was close to the elevator. For $44, I wasn’t complaining.

Of course, the nicest things about San Francisco are Peter, Mark, Randy, Jim, Don, Jenny, Rachel, Paul and Helene. The only thing missing is David.

Be back home tomorrow.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 8:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 31, 2006

London update

After whining about not wanting to stay in Kensington a $131/night bid was rejected for Mayfair/Bloomsbury, though with a "raise your bid by $22 and we'll let you bid again" offer, which tends to mean that one is in striking range. All the same, I knew that Kensington would go for around $85 and the price differential was starting to get to me. Moreover I have a Flyertalk buddy who'll be in London, we'd like to meet up and he is staying in Kensington.

So I relented. Bid $83/night, worked up by $1 intervals, hit at $85 at the Millennium Gloucester. I've stayed there before (it's just fine) and that's where he is as well, so getting together will be easier and it was $208 total for two nights instead of upwards of $320. I'm glad to be staying in Central London on Thursday, but I think it will make less of a difference on Friday especially, when I'm just coming back from Bristol in the afternoon and then heading to Covent Garden.

On top of that, another Flyertalk buddy will be in London at the same time as I found out from my other friend. The funny thing is this third friend just moved to NYC and we've been meaning to get together for dinner for months. So I guess we'll do so in London instead!

As is my wont, I'm enjoyably, stupidly overbooked for this trip.

Arrive London Wednesday morning.

See Lynette for lunch
See Alexander for dinner
See the Wheeldon/MacGregor/Balanchine triple bill at Covent Garden (for Pointe Magazine)

Head to Bristol to visit family Thurs am.

Head back to London Fri afternoon
See Schlepping Beauty (Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta) at Covent Garden Friday night.
Drinks with Bryan and Albert afterwards?

I've never seen The Changing of the Guards, so I think I may try to do that Sat morning before heading to Covent Garden again.
Another Schlepping Beauty (Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares)
I've kept Saturday after the ballet open in case Alexandra is free.

Get on a plane home Sunday mid morning.

It won't all get done, but I'll have fun trying.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 26, 2006

Two updates

Mileage Eggspert:

While talking to Mom today, she exclaimed in the midst of the conversation, “I saw you on TV yesterday!” I didn’t get any advance warning that the segment ran; it sounded from Mom's general description as if they used a clip of me explaining the basics of how to use shopping portals. Mom also said they showed me sitting down at a computer (we had to troop down to the interviewers office to set up that fake shot at the interviewer's desk) and she reported they said I was smart. Of course I’m smart; I’m a mileage eggspert. I wrote to the production company to see if I could get a copy of the clip.


As I thought might be the case, Asiarooms could not get the Bonnington at such a low rate. I booked the Thistle Marble Arch via Octopus for the 22nd; the same offer isn’t there for the 24th-26th. Priceline bidding is harder than it should be; it has rejected up to $125/night ($152 total with fees) and rates aren’t particularly high at some of the common hotels (Thistle Marble Arch, Cumberland, Hilton London Euston) to explain. I’ll bid in $1 increments up to $130 – at that point I will make a cancelable reservation somewhere inexpensive and hope prices break.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 7:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 25, 2006

London dithering, again.

Once again I’m dithering on London accommodations.

I will be there in November on the evening of the 22nd and from the 24th through the 26th. Priceline isn’t giving me love. Well, it would give me love if I loved Kensington, but that isn’t the love I want. It’s pretty obvious I could get the Millennium Gloucester for about $85/night plus taxes+fees but staying in Central London last trip convinced me that I just don’t want to stay in Kensington. For me, it would be like vacationing in Manhattan but staying in Queens; I have nothing against it, but nothing I want to do is there.

Usually hotels in the Bloomsbury zone go for around $100-105/night but the counter offers I’ve gotten have been $140 for the weekend and $210 for the 22nd. The usual counteroffer for a $100-105 win is about $10 higher. I’ve bid up to $120; no dice, so I am now looking at other alternatives.

This means scouring the other booking websites; here are my findings.

Three other sites offer opaque booking, Hotwire, and or – their engines are the same. The most useful tool for navigating Hotwire are the hotel lists at Better Bidding, which give some idea what a hotel might be based on featured amenities. 4* in Bloomsbury are offered at $138 on the weekend, but taxes and fees jack that up to $150 or more, which is starting to not be enough of a savings to justify losing control of the process.

Lastminutetravel and (they are very different sites; try both) offers “Top Secret” and “Off the Record” hotels respectively. Both give enough of a description of the hotel to make a very educated guess what it is – Better Bidding has an invaluable reverse search that takes the URL from Easyclick or Lastminutetravel and tells you which hotel it thinks it may be.

The pickings at are rather expensive for these days; the Off the Record hotels in Bloomsbury at turned out to be those of the Imperial Hotel chain – several large budget hotels up Southhampton Row and Woburn Place around Russell Square and Tavistock Place. They’re a good location for me, but the hotels themselves get mixed reviews. Price range is between $106 for a single at the Royal National and $148 for a double at the Imperial – in all cases tax and breakfast included.

Two rate comparison websites that are useful are and No booking engine had consistently lowest rates; they each have their own advantages.

Of the big US engines (Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity), Expedia seemed to turn up the best bargains. With all of them you really need to get outside information; their star ratings for hotels seems to be created with a dartboard.

The best possibility on Expedia was a single room at the Strand Palace for $154 including taxes and fees. It will be small, but the location is close to perfect for someone going to Covent Garden. Similar low prices were also found at

Orbitz occasionally has promotional code offerings, but the booking engine itself is rife with inaccuracies; hotels that are available on other sites are listed as without available rooms on Orbitz (which only means that Orbitz no longer has an allotment of rooms)

Octopus Travel and Hotel Club offer an option very useful for the solo traveler to the UK, the separate “twin for sole use” category. Single rooms are like cupboards in England, the ability to get a double room at a discount is helpful. Hotel Club’s rates weren’t the lowest in any category; Octopus Travel had great rates on the Bonnington Hotel, a more modern alternative to the other hotels on Southhampton Row with more facilities as well; but they were “on request” – where Octopus needs to check with the hotel for availability and the Bonnington turned it down. Because I have time, I tried, a Singapore based travel agency that turned up with similar low rates for the Bonnington. Like Octopus, they also only have the rooms “on request”. Their inventory may not be different, but it’s worth a try. Octopus also has the Thistle Marble Arch available on the 22nd in a Twin for Sole Use category for $158 with breakfast, taxes and fees included.

If the Bonnington doesn’t pan out at Asiarooms, I’ll make a decision trying to balance location, price and quality. If you're wondering why I'm not investigating B&B's, the truth is I don't like them. Give me a clean, chararacterless hotel with wireless internet access and a good fitness center any day over charm and character. I get that from the city itself, I want my hotel to be a calm, neutral place where I can get things done.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 7, 2006

Recent Priceline Bidding - no bed of roses

My Portland, Oregon, bid on Priceline was not one of my best. It beat other conventional means of bidding but not by as much as I would have hoped.

The most common 3* hotel win in Portland seems to be the Doubletree Lloyd Center; it has gone for as low as $34; the usual win (when there is inventory) is around $41. The Doubletree was sold out on my dates; other hotels don’t discount their inventory to Priceline as strongly. I was creeping up by $2 per bid thinking surely I would hit something by $45. Surely by $55. I didn’t even start to get rebid offers (increase your bid by $22 and we will let you bid again on the exact same bid) until around $62. I continued using a free rebid zone instead (for 3*, Portland has two, Beaverton and NW Portland) and finally got the Sheraton Four Points at $70.

Not great. Sheraton was having a stay two nights, get one free for $130/night, or $260 total without tax, and I would have earned Starpoints. I paid $246 with tax and fees. Because of their versatility, I value Starpoints highly. Had I researched it more thoroughly before my bid; I might have chosen that option once the potential bid crept up so high.

San Francisco has also not panned out completely the way I want. Oracle World has meant there is precious little inventory in the city available either by conventional or opaque bidding. I also realized that if I woke up in a hotel I didn't like on my birthday, I was going to be unhappy. This realization, while sensible and true, is going to cost me. There were scattered rooms at good hotels available; generally not at the hotels websites themsleves, but at consolidators. Last Minute Travel, Octopus Travel, Hotel Club and Quikbook all had options, but HotelRes, a local SF booking agency, has more coverage in the city, low prices and cancelable bookings. I'll make a choice about 4-5 days out between rock bottom (Grant Plaza - $77), budget (King George - $119) and more luxurious (The Donatello - $198) accommodations. If anyone knows any of these hotels, make a comment!

I'm now starting to make reasonably priced cancelable backups the moment I think I might go somewhere to avoid getting shut out by convention bookings. When my dates are firm, I can try undercutting them via Priceline.

I’m working on London bids right now for Thanksgiving. It could be seasonal, but London prices are creeping up; Kensington wins (usually the cheapest in London) are around $85/night. More frustratingly, I’m not getting counteroffers as a matter of course where I once did. It makes bid determination a good deal harder.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 10:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 21, 2006

Travel and Priceline Update

I apologize for not posting on this topic for a while, much of the interesting stuff happened in July when I had blog fatigue.

For a few hours on July 11, United Airlines had a fare burp. In trying to match Southwest Airline's sale prices, they inadvertently set round trip prices at the one way fare, so New York to Seattle was as little as $136 including taxes.

I tried to tell people at the time but found the fare was being yanked from even as I was trying to purchase it. Selecting flights, the fare was $136; at the payment page it leaped to $372.

I nearly chalked it up to experience but something told me not to give up so easily. I headed over to Orbitz, then Travelocity. No love for me. Then Expedia. Jackpot. The fare was still there, and I impulsively purchased a weekend in Seattle to see their opening night gala and a flight to Oakland to spend my birthday in San Francisco.

About two hours later when I looked at the calendar and sheepishly realized that I picked the weekend I was to teach entrelac in Long Island to go to Seattle I called Expedia contritely. United allows cancellations without penalty within 24 hours but Expedia adds a $30 administrative fee that I chalked up to experience, and rescheduled for two weeks following.

So I’m traveling quite a bit in the next few weekends. All of it I can blame on either Flyertalk or Fare Compare, the best places to catch wind of short lived sales.

End of September – Seattle. The UA fare burp. "Ooo. I can see Pacific Northwest Ballet." Priceline gave me love as well; Seattle hotel rates dropped for the fall and I got the 3* Renaissance downtown for $65.

Mid October – Portland, Oregon. Caused by AA's mysterious $99 NYC-PDX r/t offered last March. "Ooo. I can see Oregon Ballet Theatre." Priceline is being recalcitrant about Portland. Usually the 3* Doubletree Lloyd Center comes in at below $45. Up until bids of $64/night I was getting straight rejections. Now I am getting “raise your bid by $17 and we’ll let you rebid” so I know I am coming into striking range.

Mid October – San Francisco. Again, the UA fare burp. I have no self control. "Ooo. SF Ballet isn't on. I'm going to San Francisco for my birthday anyway." The routing is odd (I’m going home via LAX), but I’m on United’s P.S. transcontinental service homeward bound, so I upgraded to business class for 15,000 miles as a birthday treat. Little did I realize that my birthday is the beginning of %#^$#% Oracle World, which vacuums up 7000 hotel rooms in the city. I got the Hilton Financial Center for the first two days of my stay for $70, but could get nothing for the last night going up to $115. I have backup reservations at two budget options, the King George Hotel ($119) and the Grant Plaza ($77) – so I will ask local friends to check them out if they go by. If you know anything about either, feel free to comment. An excellent place to make hotel reservations for San Francisco is at – rates are very competitive and they allow cancellations without penalty.

Mid November – Toronto. Cross-border fares are comparatively expensive – NYC-YYZ is often more than NYC-SFO. American Airlines offers a reduced price award ticket in the winter month; short haul hops of under 750 miles are only 15,000; Canadian destinations (Montreal, Toronto and particularly Halifax) work out to a much better deal than domestic short hauls. “Ooo. I can see National Ballet of Canada's new home at the Four Seasons Opera House.” I stay with my friends John and Chris in Toronto so no Priceline bidding. (John, if you’re reading this entry, can I stay with you?)

Thanksgiving – London. It wasn't in the budget. But then there was the Delta sale inaugurating their JFK-Gatwick route. $304 with taxes included. "Ooo. I can see the Royal Ballet’s triple bill with The Four Temperaments, and new MacGregor and Wheeldon pieces AND see my brother for Thanksgiving." I am so WEAK. Continental matched Delta’s fare, and I was torn between which to take (CO’s flight times were marginally better, but JFK is slightly easier to get to for me than Newark). I had done everything at but the final purchase details when I realized that my seat assignments were not taking, and instead I was getting a message “seat assignment at gate”. Calling CO, they are not allowing seat assignments to England. I could care less about terrorism. Hijack my plane and blow me up, but blow me up when I am sitting in an aisle seat, preferably when I can bring a bottle of water and @$&^%$! shampoo as carry-on. I explained to the sales rep that I knew it was not her decision, but they had lost a sale because I would not take the risk of being in a middle seat for 7 hours and booked on Delta. I then corrupted the perennially stylish Eve Ng, who wanted to visit her daughter in London but was hesitating until she saw the price. I booked Eve’s hotel for her, the Copthorne Tara in Kensington where I stayed last October; $92/night – I got it last year for $69. Prices on Priceline fluctuate strongly according to demand but there is a trend up as occupancy has improved. I have not yet booked my hotel; I’ll do it after I figure out when I am going to see my family in Bristol.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

A Day in Boston

I made a grand fraternal gesture yesterday. My brother flew in from the UK for a conference in Boston. He didn’t know the city, nor knew anyone there and he had two days to kill before the conference began, so I took an early bus up to Boston to spend the day with him.

Though it meant getting up obscenely early (for me, at least) on a Sunday, I had a great time. The 9:00 am bus was only about 30% full and got to Boston half an hour before scheduled arrival at 1:20. My brother was staying at the Hyatt Financial Center gotten (of course) via Priceline. Boston tends to be a very tight hotel market; I did the last minute bidding for moving upwards from $85. I had seen previously accepted bids at $120, but I got to $120 only to be rejected. With only two bidding opportunities left after free rebidding and no time to wait for a clean slate to re-bid, I raised to $130 and got the room for him.

The hotel is only a few blocks from Chinatown; I dragged Harry on the inevitable pilgrimage to New Saigon Sandwich, where I got a chicken teriyaki banh mi. He got roasted chicken and noodles and summer rolls; we took it all to eat in the Public Gardens by the swan boats.


After our impromptu picnic, I took him on a mini-tour of Boston.


First stop, my favorite church in Boston, Trinity Church. On Sunday entrance requires a tour, so we did not take the time. I stopped for nostalgia’s sake at 669 Boylston Street. The top floor was Marie Paquet’s studio, where I studied ballet in 1983-4 before I moved back to New York City. As time goes on, Boston is more and more like a room that I recognize, but someone’s moved all the furniture around. The entry at 669 no longer leads to the rest of the building; it’s only for the Aveda salon downstairs. From there, across Exeter Street and down Commonwealth Avenue, across Hereford Street past Marlborough and Beacon Streets, then over to the Charles River. We walked up the banks of the river, watching sailboats race and a particularly aggressive flock of geese worry some fallen apples and each other.

We left the river at the Hatch bandshell and walked up Beacon Hill. I know Back Bay very well from my years in school and immediately after – I went into Marie’s studio daily – but almost never had a reason to go to Beacon Hill. At first I thought the lamps had been refitted to electricity but on closer inspection I think they are still gas.


Coming back to Beacon Street, we walked past the gold-domed state house, and found our way back to the hotel. After a brief shopping excursion (what anyone who lives in the UK does when they visit the US) we went for decent Thai food at Montien Thai – right around the corner from Saigon Sandwich on Kneeland Street.

From there, he accompanied me to the bus station (a walk of only a few blocks) and I got on the 8 p.m. bus. It was packed full – I didn’t expect anything less from the next-to-last bus on a Sunday night, but the traffic was even better; we were at the gate of the Port Authority by 11:30 pm. The bus ride was slightly longer than the visit – I spent just under eight hours on the road – but it was profitably spent. I managed to knit a cap in DK weight yarn in its entirety.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 8, 2006

Actually Knitting to Relax

Usually I hate the question asked if someone sees me knitting, “That’s very relaxing isn’t it?” Yesterday, I knit to calm down for the first time in a while. When I came to check in at 1 pm at the Hilton London Euston, after a 2.5 hour bus ride from Bristol and schlepping my heavy bags from Victoria to Euston on the underground, the clerk first asked me umpteen questions only useful for marketing (you don’t need my phone number in the US, and you don’t need my email address. GIVE ME MY ROOM.) Then he tried to downsell me into a single room when I had paid for a double - something hotels occasionally try and do if you've gotten the room on Priceline. I don't care if I'm only one person, the terms of Priceline are double accommodation. Do not even try and give me a single room - I deliberately use Priceline in London to avoid single rooms the size of closets. Then he told me to come back at official check-in, 3 pm. I went to the plaza outside of Euston Station and knit several squares of Fair Isle entrelac to release the pressure from the steam building between my ears.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 4:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 28, 2006

When Priceline works, when it doesn’t

Recent and upcoming travel:

San Francisco – Ramada Plaza Civic Center; 2.5* $45/night Priceline
Palm Springs – Comfort Suites; 2* $79/night – booked at the hotel’s website with a discount.
Philadelphia – Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, 3* $46/night Priceline
Chicago – Club Quarters 3* $70/night Priceline (I'm flying out tonight to see the city for the first time and to see the Joffrey Ballet)
Boston – no success yet
St. Petersburg – Radisson Royal and Renaissance – award stays
London – hotels not booked, though I have a backup reservation.

Priceline isn’t always the best choice for travel plans – some examples from real life of when it works and when it doesn’t.

I was in Philadelphia last weekend staying at the Marriott Downtown. Philadelphia is usually a no-brainer city on Priceline; plenty of quality inventory in good locations at reasonable choice. It’s my first choice, except –

When there’s a convention. Boston is never a great Priceline city, next weekend it’s even worse. There’s a convention of oncology nurses; rooms via normal booking channels have been well over $200 a night and are only starting to drop in price. I’ve bid up to $120/night without success. I'll keep trying, but that’s my limit.

The usual 3* downtown hotel, the Boston Park Plaza, drives many bidders crazy because it has “Priceline” rooms that are smaller, face onto an airshaft and have one double bed. Unless you’re a couple, they’re impossible for more than a single traveler, but since I’m alone, they’re just fine and the location is perfect. I’ve spent the same on Hotwire to stay in a larger room a few stops out on the T in Somerville. Never again. The difference in the quality of vacation when you can walk to the theater, the Commons and dinner or for a drink is worth a lot more money to me.

Some cities, like Buenos Aires and St. Petersburg, don’t even have Priceline bidding. Birmingham UK offers bidding, but minimal inventory. Some cities are great. Besides Philadelphia, other no-brainer Priceline cities include Brussels and London (but I may not use it myself this upcoming trip; see below.) Cities that yield lesser deals include Paris and Barcelona. In both cases, location is the issue. Barcelona’s zones extend past the city limits; I wouldn’t risk getting a hotel in the suburbs. Paris now has 4* hotels coming up in central zones; a few years ago the good hotels that came up were at the edge of the city. Hotels in resort towns have their own problems; I did not use Priceline in Palm Springs because some hotels tack on a mandatory “resort fee” that can be up to $25 per day. There’s no way to know what the final cost of the bid will be and that makes bidding far less attractive. I’ll book by other routes.

Priceline has achieved one secondary goal for hoteliers in my case; it’s given me a taste for better accommodations and made me more willing to pay for them. Staying in places like the Marriott Marble Arch (one of my nicest Priceline stays) in London has made me willing to pay what I need to get quality accommodations. Staying at the Tage Inn in Somerville or the Meridien Etoile in Paris, a good hotel but at the very edge of the city, made me willing to pay more for a central location. Priceline has great London bargains, but I have gotten sick of staying in Kensington; it’s a 20-30 minute tube ride from Covent Garden, and that adds up. I want to stay in walking distance from Covent Garden, so I am watching hotels at very carefully. If a good hotel goes down to less than £80 per night, I’m pouncing. If nothing shows up by mid-May; I’ll start bidding in the Mayfair zone on Priceline.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 3:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 12, 2006

When you’ve only got one shot at bidding in London

A friend uses Priceline to bid on London, particularly Kensington, frequently and at the last minute. Here’s a bidding strategy that can give him a few extra bids; if it’s useful to you feel free to try it. Make sure that you have looked at recent wins at Better Bidding or Bidding for Travel to get a sense of the bidding and win trends.

At present there are roughly three tiers for the London bidding zones. I’m not including London Bridge and Bayswater in this consideration because I don’t know enough about them; there isn’t much reported data.

Bloomsbury, Kensington and The City have winning bids in the cheapest range. At any given time any of them could be the lowest; it depends on who is loading the best priced inventory into Priceline. I don’t know Hammersmith and Regents Park as well, but they (especially Regents Park) seem to fall into this approximate range as well. One notch in cost above that is Westminster; a notch above that is Mayfair.

My friend has had no problem getting 4* hotels in Kensington the day before for $75 a night – with taxes and services about $107.

To undercut that bid in any of the lowest priced zones, try the following:

Note: This assumes normal occupancy in London – check first to see if the “usual suspect” hotels in your zone have rooms available at normal prices. If they’re sold out or much more expensive than usual, be prepared to bid higher. This also isn’t going to work with the higher priced zones, especially Mayfair. You really only have one shot in Mayfair – adding in another zone will probably get you a hotel in that zone before Mayfair, because the prices are lower in the other zones. Bid with that in mind.

Bid $65 for a 4* in Kensington (or any of the other zones). If the bid is not accepted but you get a counter offer at under $90, it is the best sign that you are in striking range.

Optional step if getting a hotel in Westminster is not more desirable than Kensington. Close the browser. Start a new bid for a 4* in Westminster at $52. Your odds are infinitesimal that you would actually get a hotel for that price (but there is some risk – my advice is to shut up and be happy if you get a room in Westminster for $52), but what you might get is a counter offer. If it’s lower or close to the one you got for your desired zone, proceed with caution.

Otherwise add in Westminster, raise your bid to $70.

If it’s not accepted, close your browser. If desired, repeat the optional step with Mayfair and close your browser again. Begin a new bid for Kensington and Mayfair at $72 if you’re feeling confident or $75 if you aren’t.

If it doesn’t work, add in Westminster and raise your bid to either $75 or $80. Caution: if you don’t get a hotel on this bid things get more difficult.

If you have to keep going, close your browser and repeat the optional step with any other London zone, one at a time. Hopefully something will come back with a much higher counteroffer than Kensington. If so, use that zone “X”. Bid $82 in Kensington and X, then bid Kensington, X and Westminster. Close the browser, bid Kensington, X and Mayfair. If that doesn’t work, bid Kensington, X, Westminster and Mayfair and let’s hope by this point you have a hotel room!

This strategy can be tweaked to work for other cities, but it works particularly well in zones that regularly offer counteroffers to bids as happens a lot in London. You could start by doing the optional lowball step with every zone in London before starting and use the zones with the highest counteroffers as quasi-free rebids. Just remember that you are taking a calculated risk. Priceline can defy all logic and give you a win in any zone you bid on, so make sure you're bidding in zones it wouldn't be a disaster for you to stay.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 4:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 9, 2006

Priceline reduces rebid wait time to 24 hours

via this thread on Flyer Talk and double checked on the Priceline web site, the waiting time for rebidding is no longer 72 hours, but 24. As long as we don't go bid-happy (something that always works in Priceline's favor) this is a good thing.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 8, 2006

The perils of dithering

I had decided to splurge on the Kingsway Hall Hotel after asking about it; I admit I was leaning that way even as I wrote the query - writing the question helped me know what I wanted. But I waited until Tuesday, when I had completed ticket arrangements at Covent Garden before going back to to purchase the room.


With no trace.

And a few weeks earlier, when the Waldorf Hilton (another place that was exactly what I wanted) was coming up at $109 on Hotwire, I waited as well for my credit card statement to end. It was gone before then.

The lesson, which I may never learn but I'll say it anyway is:

If you're shopping with some clue of what you're doing and you see what you want at a price that you think is fair, don't wait forever to buy it.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 6:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 5, 2006

Trip Progress, London Dithering

Here's where we are on the St. Petersburg - London trip:

Airfare: Ticketed. Business class on BA via Asiamiles JFK-LED-LHR-JFK. Cost was taxes - $306 and 60,000 Asiamiles (exactly what I had, what a coincidence!)

St. Petersburg Hotels: Renaissance St. Petersburg. Two nights redeemed. This was very dicey. Between the time I had reserved the reward and the time when I came to redeem the points needed for it a few days ago, the hotel raised categories from a Reward Category 4 to 5. For the part paid with Marriott points, this is no problem; Marriott honors the rate at the time the reservation was made. The problem was that one night is to be paid for with a VISA promotional certificate good only up to category 4. At first, the rewards desk told me it was no longer good. Speaking to a supervisor there got an offer of 7,000 points, which was useless. Calling the customer service department, however, got the problem entirely solved. They will honor the certificate and it is documented in my reservation. I will call the hotel directly before leaving, however. I'm not going to find out this did not work when I am in St. Petersburg. I should note that even though this took a few calls to unscramble both the rewards desk and customer service at Marriott are unfailingly polite and make every attempt to be helpful. Total cost will be the taxes, $50/night upgrade fee to a suite, the certificate (which I earned for applying for the VISA) and 20,000 Marriott points (it would have been 25,000, but they honored the earlier rate). I had 18,000 points total and Marriott allows you to buy 10% of a reward in 1000 point increments at $10/1000 points, so I bought 2,000 points for $20 rather than having to charge $2,000.

Radisson Baltic St. Petersburg. We're still earning points. I'm at 37,500 so far. I've converted 25,000 Continental OnePass Miles to 25,000 Amtrak Points to 25,000 Midwest Miles (It's all done via Amtrak Guest Rewards). When the miles land at Midway, I will convert them via to Goldpoints. It should be about 25-26,000. I've got about 1250 Goldpoints pending from online purchases and about 4000 from purchases. My guess is I will have around 70-75000 of the 120,000 points I need, and the rest will be converted from AA miles via

Got that?

I still have to apply for my Russian visa. I have the documents assembled, I just need to get a photo, and the fee in a money order.

On to planning for London:

Given my tendency to overstrategize travel to the point where the hourly cost of my dithering is astronomical, I thought I'd ask you all what you thought.

I've stayed in Kensington most of my trips to London but there's almost nothing in Kensington I do. When I go to London, I live at Covent Garden. At this point I'm getting kind of tired of spending an hour a day on the tube or not being able to get back to the hotel room for a break. So I was trying on Priceline for a room in the Mayfair-Soho or at least within walking distance of Covent Garden. (I'm a good walker) has the Kingsway Hall Hotel as a "top secret" special (I'm positive about the ID) for £79 per night - that would be $139/night and VAT is included but there is a credit card fee and currency conversion to be considered. It is *exactly* what I want. 1/4 mile from Covent Garden, Free Wireless in the Lobby, Fitness Center. To beat that on Priceline, I would have to get a Mayfair hotel for under $115 per night with fees thrown in and it may not have those amenities. The Waldorf Hilton was coming up on Hotwire for those days for $109 (that would add up to about the same with taxes and fees - around $138), but I waited too long; now it's $338.

Some cities regularly show "counteroffers" on Priceline. These are very useful markers on about how much you will need to bid - it will (except in circumstances I have not yet encountered) be less than the counteroffer. In London, if you have the time, you can get a lay of the land by lowballing several zones one at a time and seeing what the counteroffers are. BE SURE TO REALLY LOWBALL. If your bid is accepted, you're stuck. In zones I didn't really want to stay in, I was bidding around $50 for a 4*, which I have never seen accepted in London (though I have seen a few dollars more get accepted recently - so check recent bids on Bidding For Travel or Better Bidding)

This is what came up:

Mayfair 4* No counteroffer for bid up to $85
3* $110 Counteroffer on bid of $60. My guess is this is the Thistle Trafalgar, which is a mediocre hotel with a good location and no facilities.

Bloomsbury 4* $101 Counteroffer on bid of $50 - My guess is the Thistle Marble Arch. This is a long walk, but possible.

Westminster 4* $85 Counteroffer on bid of $50 - My guess is the Jolly St. Ermins. This is within (a long) walking distance, also no facilities.

City 4* $76 Counteroffer on bid of $48 - not sure what this is; if it is the Tower Hotel it is not in walking distance.

Kensington 4* $68 Counteroffer on bid of $50 - not sure what this is; if it is Holiday Inn Kensington Forum (which is coming up again on winning bids) I like the place and it has all the facilities I want, but it means a 20-25 minute subway ride.

What would you do? Bidding on a Kensington hotel is a savings of about $65/day - or double. The first four nights hotel on Priceline at $63/night comes to $306.35 - the total for the Kingsway Hall on will be about $570 with currency and credit card fees but it is also exactly what I want. However, over 7 days that is a very healthy sum.

Help me stop dithering!

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 6, 2006


I love spending the night in a hotel. It’s a treat for me to be in an uncluttered room. I got the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown on 12th and Market for $47 on Priceline + taxes and fees. The room was lovely, it was at most a ten minute walk from the ballet and I even had a view of City Hall from my room. There is also a very large fitness center including a pool and at least ten treadmills.

Connie and I had planned to go to Singapore, our favorite Chinese vegetarian restaurant to commune with the heavenly orange non-beef. My friend Dale had also decided to go down to see the performances and we were surprised by a friend from Los Angeles who had flown in for the day to see the performance! So we all headed to the restaurant and even Dale, as confirmed a carnivore as me, agreed that the orange non-beef was celestial.

The one drawback to the Marriott was that at 6:46 am, someone pulled a fire alarm, starting off a very Orwellian loudspeaker alarm. Waking up to noises and flashing lights, it took me about half a minute to realize where I was. It was a false alarm, but I noticed the view out the window of City Hall and Philadelphia’s mirrored skyscrapers, now against a background of the most beautiful lapis sky. I would have missed it if the alarm hadn’t have gone off. I admired it for a few minutes before going back to bed. You never know when a bad situation is going to turn itself inside-out to become an opportunity.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 29, 2005

Copthorne Tara, London

The Copthorne Tara is considered a booby prize hotel in the Kensington zone by Priceline aficionados. Since I’m a booby, I got the prize by impulsively adding the Kensington zone when I was angling for the Thistle Marble Arch. I’ve spent several days here now, and it’s been as acceptable as any other Priceline experience I’ve had. This has happened before. The Radisson Harborview in San Diego, the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and the Boston Park Plaza are also considered booby prizes; the former because of quality, the latter two because they are older hotels and unload their smaller rooms as distressed inventory on Priceline. In all cases I had a good stay; I think many of the complaints are because two travelers find themselves in cramped quarters. If you’re traveling alone, it’s not an issue.

[continued as an extended entry with room pictures]

The Copthorne Tara is located right off of the High Street Kensington tube station. Turn left out of the main tube entrance and make another left immediately on the corner at Wrights Lane. At the end of the block you will see the Kensington Close hotel, bear left and the Copthorne Tara is the large yellowish brick building immediately to the left. It will be obvious. There's also a faster shortcut, but it's through a poorly lit alleyway. Turn left right out of the tube turnstiles and head to the green "fire exit" sign. I would not use this the first time you go to the hotel, or if you're chary about unlit areas at night.

Check in was polite and speedy. The clerk only had twin bedded rooms, but without asking switched me to a higher floor, and also allowed me to check in at 1:00 pm. This may be the luck of the draw; a man checking in at the same time with another clerk was told to come back at 3:00 pm. My room was a standard twin bedded room, about the same level and design as the Holiday Inn Kensington Forum in London.



Amenities are basic; there is coffee maker with coffee, a combination trouser press/iron that did not work (I called housekeeping and they promptly brought an iron and board) and a television I never used. The air conditioning unit is similar to those in the U.S. and effective, but not necessary at the end of October. The bathroom had a smallish tub and the hotel provides bar soap, shampoo and shower gel as well as bath and large face towels. If you use conditioner or a small washcloth, bring your own.



Most conveniently, the room had a small cube refrigerator in it instead of a minibar. Two blocks to the left on the High Street there is a Somerfield market that is well stocked with produce and prepared foods and there are several other options as well. I found with careful shopping I was able to eat healthily and well at my convenience.

Internet service is painfully expensive. WiFi is available only in the lobby and at the cost of £8 per hour. I found that if I walked up the block past the Kensington Close hotel and then crossed Cheniston Gardens and walked another block up Abingdon Villas to Iverna Gardens I found a stray wireless signal on the corner. My guess is there are several others in the neighborhood as well. There is a fitness room in the hotel that costs £5 per visit. I shamefully admit that after packing workout clothing I just never had time to use it.

I’d have no problem staying here again. I liked the convenience to the Tube and the in-room refrigerator. I did not like the high cost for other incidentals (wireless, exercise room) and the location should be considered. Kensington (and presently Marble Arch) seem to be currently the least expensive Priceline zones in London, but Mayfair Soho is the most convenient for a tourist. Most of the central London attractions are there, as is the theater district. I was spending at least an hour daily traveling on the Tube on various trips. Hotels like the Thistle Charing Cross can sometimes come up for around $95/night (I got the Copthorne Tara for $69) but the extra expense may be worth the convenience and offset by the decreased transportation costs.

I’m usually a terrible food shopper in London, and end up coming home feeling like I’ve eaten only sausage rolls and other junk. I was more careful this time. Here’s my shopping list (as much so I remember it for future travel as for your benefit!):

Grapefruit Juice
Bottled water (a six pack of 500 ml bottles)
Fruit (plums, pears, bananas)
Whole grain bread
Bagged mixed salad greens
Carrot sticks
Low fat sliced cheese
Sliced ham
Sliced turkey breast
A small bottle of salad dressing
A small jar of mustard
Plastic cutlery
Paper bowls (for salad)

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 7:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 22, 2005

Dentists invade Philadelphia!

And they're in every hotel.

I'm going to see Swan Lake on October 8 and want to see the matinee and the evening show, but the ADA is having their national convention in town and most of the usual Priceline suspects sold out or reporting rates of $300 and up. I think finding a hotel is going to be quite a feat.

Another lesson learned. Even a city that's usually a pushover for Priceline rates can be overrun by . . . dentists.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 29, 2005

Priceline and Force Majeure

I should have been in Birmingham, AL tonight.

I'm not. There's this hurricane, see?

In situations of force majeure such as hurricanes, Priceline refunds bids with almost no hassle. I called the customer service number this afternoon and explained there were no flights into BHM because of Hurricane Katrina and that I could not get there. I was on hold 2-3 minutes and they told me they would refund and gave me a cancellation number. That was that. I rescheduled my flight and re-bid, getting the same hotel, but for $1 less.

Northwest was just as accomodating, but as you might guess, there are a lot of full flights because of displaced passengers.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 17, 2005

Priceline bidding epilogues


Bids of up to $100 were rejected, no counteroffers ever proposed. It's possible there was no inventory. I gave up on Priceline and booked via another route. Octopus Travel and Late Rooms had the best offers: Octopus offered a more expensive hotel (the Hyatt) but at a better value and I decided to splurge. It was $474 for three nights including breakfast; about $130 more than I would have spent for the most inexpensive option I had without breakfast. The hotel delivered the added value for the money in services, facilities and comfort; I'm happy with that decision.


I am very glad I was not able to get a bid accepted before I returned from Europe, as the dates that I needed to go changed by a day. Lesson: do not bid until your dates are firm.

Bids placed in May yielded no acceptances at up to $75 for 4* and $60 for 3*

The Marriott in Georgetown showed up on Better Bidding for $60. I bid $65 for 4*, which was rejected, then lowered my star level and price to 3* and $60. Acceptance. I had one free rebid, but we are getting close to the date and I didn't want to wait 72 hours if I screwed up.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 8:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 30, 2005

I only have pink eyes for you . . .

The last few days have involved a lot of hacking up gopher-sized gobs of goo, which can be morbidly fun, because then you get to check in the tissue to see what color it is and gauge the infection. (Chartreuse . . . I’m really sick!) I still had things that needed to be done, like laundry. Being sick, I forgot to check my pants when I put them in the wash. When I took them out of the dryer, out tumbled three tissues, a fine-line marker and a plastic shopping bag along with my laundry, miraculously unharmed.

I also had a trip to Philadelphia pre-arranged to see Pennsylvania Ballet that I couldn’t get out of, so here I am. The hotel room at the Hyatt is about the color of my snot but brighter and definitely more pleasant. My snot also doesn’t have a lovely view of the skyline. I packed herbal tea with me and made it in the little in-room coffee pot, so it tastes like lemon-coffee tea. Used along with the nighttime cough syrup that I also packed, I feel much better this morning.

For those of you following along on my Priceline bidding, I won the Hyatt on a $60 bid right around the time I wrote the series. The hotel’s own website showed the hotel as sold out. The vacation packages only showed 3* inventory. I had bid up to $55 for 3* hotels the day before, no dice. But for a lark and because there were so many re-bids, I tried a 4* bid at $60.

Accepted, first bid at the sold-out Hyatt.

Next time I want to figure out what to bid I’m using a dartboard.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 10:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 6, 2005

Priceline for the Timid: Part VII - Further Strategies

When to bid, early or late? There is no good answer to this question. Some great hotels load their Priceline inventory months in advance. I won one of the best hotels I ever got in London, the Marriott Marble Arch, on a bid six months previous to the stay. Others only load inventory or their best rates shortly before the dates. The Wyndham in Philadelphia had extraordinarily cheap rates (as low as $31 a few years ago) but they didn’t seem to load them until a week or two prior. Bid as soon as your dates are firm, but lowball. If you aren’t getting what you want, don’t keep bidding and raising your price through impatience. Stop bidding and make a cancelable backup. Wait until about one month to three weeks out, then bid more seriously.

Priceline inventory changes constantly. Three days ago a $100 bid was rejected for a 4* hotel at Heathrow; usually the going rate is around $60, but inventory was low. Today it was accepted. Don’t assume the offer you made before is automatically too low. Go back and check the rates at likely hotels. Have they dropped?

When can I rebid? Per Priceline, you can make a new bid 72 hours after the original bid, but there have been reports of glitches. I put a reminder in my diary for 73 hours later; that’s why I suggest you jot down the time of your bid.

Rebidding by dropping down in star level or by changing dates. If you have already been rebidding when you chose to make this change close the browser and start a new bid. If you’ve already bid on a 4* in Georgetown and used a free rebid for Springfield, if you close the browser rather than just changing quality levels, you can re-use Springfield as a bidding zone. And if it was Arlington or another area with 3* hotels, if you drop down in quality level, you can’t get rid of the zone, and your bid could get accepted in a zone you did not want to stay in. Finally, if you intend to bid on a range of quality levels, bid on the highest one first. You have more rebidding options open if you bid in this order.

Make sure to drop your price if you drop your star level. Unless your price was huge lowball, dropping quality levels should also mean dropping your bid, not raising it. Make sure to look up likely hotels and rates for that level, if there’s any information available.

Changing dates or splitting a bid. To accept your bid, Priceline needs to have availability on all dates of your bid, and your bid has to be high enough to be accepted on all dates.
If there’s one or two dates within your stay when rates are significantly higher or availability more limited than other days you may want to consider splitting your bid and doing one bid for the high rate days and another for the less expensive ones.

Quasi free-rebid zones. If you know the bidding history of an area well enough, you can use certain zones as a free rebid, even though they are not. An example: Historically, bids in Soho-Mayfair in London do not get accepted for less than bids in Kensington – the average prices is $20-30 more per night, and I’d be quite happy to stay in either zone. So when I am bidding for Kensington I will use Mayfair as a rebid zone even though there are 4* hotels within the zone.

Upgrades: Priceline cannot downgrade your bid and give you a 3* hotel when you bid on a 4*, but they can upgrade you. This is usually a good thing, but on occasion it’s not. There are a few zones with a clunker 3* hotel for instance; you can avoid it by bidding for a 4*, but not by bidding only to 2.5*. There is no way to prevent an upgrade. If the 3* has a lower Priceline rate, you will get it, and you have no recourse.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 4:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 4, 2005

Priceline for the Timid: Part VI - Bidding Results

There are two possible outcomes; Priceline can either accept or reject your bid.

Acceptance: Congratulations! Be sure to record your winning bid at Better Bidding, Bidding for Travel, or both (there does not seem to be a collegial relationship between the two sites, so proceed with discretion.) Print out your reservation and you’re all ready. I keep a copy with me as part of my traveling papers and I call the hotel the day before to reconfirm the reservation. I don’t make special requests at this call; I have found that asking nicely at check-in often works. There have been rare horror stories of reservations not acknowledged by the hotel; I have never had a problem.

Rejection comes in three flavors:

The standard bid rejection page states that Priceline couldn’t find you a room at a given price and offers you the opportunity to bid again if you change either the zones you’ll accept, the star level of the hotel, or the dates of your stay. You cannot change only your offer price. That's why free-rebid zones are so important.

Rebid offers and Counter offers: These are similar. A rebid offer says “If you raise your bid by $X right now we will allow you to make the same bid again.” A counteroffer is more concrete; “We could not find you a hotel at $X, but if you raise your price to $Y we will let you purchase your hotel room now.”

There are very few times that you cannot beat a counteroffer or a re-bid offer with a free re-bid, especially if you are more than 72 hours from your hotel stay. Priceline wants you to take their counteroffer or rebid offer because they make more money on it, so the link on the page to regular rebidding is not prominent, it’s simply a text link that says something like “if you would like to change the dates of your stay or the star level, click here”. Look for it, it is there.

Say my Washington DC offer for $50 was rejected outright. I rebid by ticking one of the free rebid zones (Alexandria-Mt. Vernon, Alexandria-Pentagon, Arlington, Crystal City and Springfield) and raising our price. We have five free re-bids, right? No, if you’re willing to be patient, you have several more.

You could simply tick a new rebid zone with each new bid, i.e, Georgetown + Alexandria-Mt. Vernon, then Georgetown + Alexandria-Mt. Vernon + Alexandria-Pentagon, etc.

Expanded rebidding involves closing your browser entirely and starting a completely new bidding session after each bid. So you would bid Georgetown + Alexandria-Mt. Vernon, close your browser, start a new session and bid Georgetown + Alexandria-Pentagon, close your browser, start a new session and bid Georgetown + Arlington, etc.

So with target zone “A” and five potential rebid zones B-F you would bid:

That’s 25 rebids and I may have missed some permutations.

So for Georgetown, I could bid up $1 a time from my starting bid of $50 to my maximum bid of $75.

Caution: Closing your browser and starting a new session can take over a minute. By the time you’ve done this about six times, you may be ready to accept any offer out of sheer impatience. You may wish to jump by larger intervals from a real lowball figure and smaller intervals when you think you’re coming close to a target price.

A counterbid offer means there’s inventory to be had; often in striking range. The distance from your bid to the counteroffer is an imperfect clue, but does give you an idea. Here are some recent examples. On a bid in London-Kensington for $75 I got a counter offer of $98 and got the hotel at $85. A Heathrow bid for $50 got a counter offer of $66; I got it at $59. A London-Mayfair bid of $100 got a counter offer of $151. I did not take the offer, but someone with the same dates as mine was successful at $135. Make your strategy based on how much you can – and are willing – to rebid.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 6:27 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 3, 2005

Priceline for the Timid V: The Bidding Process

Walking through a Bid

At the Priceline site, you will first get to a landing page asking you for your hotel dates and location. Begin by filling this in.

The next screen will ask you to “Select the areas where you want to stay”.

Make a note of all zones and available stars in the zone. For instance, in Washington, click Alexandria-Mt. Vernon only and then “next” – there is a hotel range of 1*-3*. Click the "back" button on your browser, unclick Alexandria-Mt. Vernon and click Alexandria-Pentagon only. Repeat the process.

Here are the results:

You are doing this to make a note of “Free rebid zones”.

Free Rebid Zones. If you bid $60 on a 4* hotel in Georgetown and Priceline does not accept it, Priceline will come back with a screen saying that your price was not accepted and allow you to rebid if you change either the dates of your stay, the quality of hotel you’re willing to accept or the zones you are willing to accept. If you indicate that you’re willing to accept a 4* hotel in either Georgetown or, for example, Arlington, they will let you raise your price and bid again. But there are no 4* hotels in Arlington. You’re essentially making the same bid again.

Your free rebid zones are zones whose maximum star listing is lower than your desired star level.

There are no free rebid zones in DC for anything under 2.5*.
Springfield is the only free rebid zone for 3*
Alexandria-Mt. Vernon, Alexandria-Pentagon, Arlington, Crystal City and Springfield are all free rebid zones for 4*

This doesn’t work in the opposite direction. If you want a 1* hotel in Georgetown, adding Dupont Circle is not a free rebid, even though it has no 1* hotels. If there was a 2* hotel in Dupont Circle that accepted your price, Priceline would “upgrade” you and give it to you.

Note the zone map on this page. You agree to a hotel anywhere within the zone you bid, so make sure the zone works for you. In cities like NYC, this is usually not a problem because the city is divided into manageable zones. In other cities, Amsterdam, Barcelona or some zones in Paris for instance, the zones are so large that you risk getting a hotel well away from where you were hoping to be. It’s a calculated risk that is less bad in Paris or Amsterdam but I would not use Priceline for Barcelona.

Back to DC. I’ll select Georgetown. The next screen asks us to select quality level and price and to give the reservation name and sign in if we already have a profile.

I will select 4* and name my price. I’ve established my upper end as being $75; I’m going to start at $50. I haven’t seen any winning bids in DC proper at that star level for that little, but with taxes and fees that comes to $121, a bit over 50% off the price of the Melrose, so I am going to start there.

The next screen is a bid confirmation screen showing your dates and zones (check them carefully) that shows the full fee including taxes and services. You can back in and out of this screen repeatedly; I will usually do this with a few test numbers to find out the total cost for bids I am considering. In this instance, a $50 bid is actually $60 and a $75 bid costs $90. It is important to know that.

You can tick a box if you want travel insurance (I don’t) and you place your initials at the bottom to indicate you’ve read and accepted Priceline’s terms (so read them!)

The next screen asks for credit card information. Make certain everything is as you want it; there's no going back if your bid is accepted. Jot down the time of your bid (I'll explain why soon) and then you would click “Buy my hotel room now!”

Next: Bid Outcomes

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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 12:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 1, 2005

Priceline for the Timid III: More pre-bid research


Check Hotwire

Create an Imaginary Vacation Package on Priceline

Here's what I came up with in Washington

OK, it’s really Dupont, not Bouffant Circle.
Q: Did you hear about the woman who got assaulted in Dupont Circle?

A: Four guys held her down while the fifth did her hair.

Philadelphia – all Downtown Zone (creating a flight from Boston rather than NY - flights from NY to Philadelphia cost a fortune because they're rare)

Interestingly, there is no 4* inventory for vacation packages in Philadelphia.

Again, Birmingham is the poor sibling. No vacation packages, unless you feel like going to Alabama.

Some English on the ball: Priceline’s inventory is not static. When I checked these same packages three days ago, in DC, the Marriott Westend package was $519, and the Melrose was $422. Both have dropped. In Philadelphia, the Courtyard was less than the Crowne Plaza. Alas, I didn’t make a note of exact figures – be sure you do. These changes will probably factor into opaque bidding as well.

You think you're ready to bid?

Well, not quite. There's just a little more to go in the next post!

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 1:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 31, 2005

Priceline for the Timid: Part II - Pre Bidding Research


Check for Winning Bids

Check for Availability and Rates