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Pros and Cons of the Express Deal on Priceline

Priceline is one of my favorite online booking agents for travel. From the easy to use app to the option to pay for airfare month to month, it is a great tool. One unique thing about Priceline is its Express Deal option for flights, which I have used with pretty good success in the past. However, it is important to know the ins and outs of how the Express Deal works before booking; otherwise, you may be very disappointed.

What Is Priceline’s Express Deal?

You may have seen commercials with Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco, the face of Priceline, boasting about how the search engine compares thousands of prices in real-time, helping travelers find cheap plane tickets to sporting events or family reunions. Well, not only do they find great deals on top airlines, but they also offer something called an “Express Deal.” These are special offers from mainline carriers that sell the flights you are interested in for less – but there is a catch. You will not know what airline you are flying on, your exact departure and arrival times, how many stops you have, and how long those stops will be. Express Deals are a gamble, and you may not get exactly what you were looking for, but in my experience, it has been worth the savings.

How the Express Deal Works

The Express Deal is an offer exclusive to Priceline and can save customers anywhere from 10%-50% on flights, but it is more common to find 30%-40%. When you click on the deal, a list of carriers that Priceline considers “Trusted Airlines” will pop up, one of which will be your airline. Those can include Air France, British Airways, American Airlines, Emirates, Lufthansa, SAS, United, Air Canada, and Alitalia.

However, here’s where things get a little risky. Although you have a list of possible airlines, you do not know which one you will get. You are only shown a time frame for when the flight will depart, which includes morning, mid-day, and night, and the possible layovers. Only after you’ve paid will you receive your flight itinerary with all of that information revealed.

Pros of the Express Deal

  1. Nice airlines. For a budget traveler like me, I usually tough it out on low-cost carriers that have no leg room, pay-per-view inflight entertainment, and no meals offered, so finding an affordable, long-haul flight on a major airline is a treat.
  2. Cheaper than the retail price. Legacy carriers such as Delta and Lufthansa tend to be on the pricier side, especially in comparison to Aeroflot or Norwegian, so the Express Deal can knock the fare down quite a bit.
  3. Financing. Priceline offers customers the option to pay for their airfare month to month for a small interest fee and the Express Deal is also included in that offer.
  4. Best price guarantee. If you find the exact same flight for cheaper up to 24 hours prior to departure, Priceline will refund you 200% of the difference (although some exclusions apply).

Cons of the Express Deal

  1. It’s a gamble. You do not know the airline, the time, or the layovers, so you risk giving up the comfort of flying on a familiar carrier at your preferred time.
  2. No flexibility. If you need to be somewhere at a specific time, or just really hate red-eye or early morning flights, then this deal is not for you. There is a big window for flight departures:
    • Early Morning: 12:00 AM – 8:00 AM
    • Morning: 6:00 AM – 2:00 PM
    • Mid-day: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
    • Night: 3:00 PM – 12:00 AM
  3. Long layovers. I booked a flight using the Express Deal from New York City to Prague and saved about $200 on the flight. However, Priceline did say that there was a potential layover of 0-18 hours on the way there, and as it turned out, I got the full 18-hour layover in Paris. It ended up not being a big deal, but if you do not like long waits in the airport or spending the night in transit, then it may not be worth the risk.
  4. No refund. The terms and conditions of the Express Deal are very strict, so refunds or flight changes are not an option. You may be able to call your credit card company or the airline directly to request a refund, but do not bank on it. If you do not like the flight you got after booking, then you just have to live with it.
  5. No bags or seat selection guaranteed. The deal does not always disclose if you get a free checked bag or seat until after booking, so you may pay extra for those during check-in or at the airport.

How to Predict Your Flight

The Express Deal gives you an outline of what to expect, so if you filter Google Flights to the specific parameters shown by Priceline, then you can get a good idea of what your itinerary will be. For example, an Express Deal flight from New York (JFK) to Dubai on February 11th leaves between 3 PM and 11 PM and has a maximum of one layover between zero and three hours. Google Flights shows five possible flight options with everything filtered (including the possible airlines), so you can expect one of those to be the outbound leg. The same method works when filtering the return flight.

I have had good success in the past using the Express Deal, even with the long layovers. The trusted airlines are well-known major carriers, and the savings are hard to pass up. However, the option is really targeted at those with flexible travel times who can plan around the mystery flight, so if winging it isn’t your thing or you are afraid of the unknown, then I suggest you scroll right past this deal.

AndreaNewEngland January 18, 2020

Just like with any other "deal," be sure to check prices. Unlike their hype, a BOS-TLV return cost more with the Express Deal than on a regular flights search. Feb/March dates were $822, but around $740 on a flight search (Delta and with only a 2 hr stopover). No comparison. I have nothing against Priceline, but this is real PR nonsense. BOS to HAN, dates in March. $1490. Google flights: $980. Same parameters of up to two stops and a layover of up to 15 hrs, though it was definitely shorter on the $980 flight. Why are they even bothering?

AndreaNewEngland January 17, 2020

That could so easily become a more expensive trip than booking normally. Ex: If you get a 4 am flight, and you need to take a taxi instead of transit. Or an 18 hr layover? Unless you are 20, that certainly means expensive transit from and to the airport, and a hotel room. I assume there is a list of potential airlines so you can skip it if they use airlines you won't fly. I don't mind a mystery flight unless the costs outweigh the savings. Anyway, the software needs some work because when I searched a flight in the Express Deals box (TLV-BOS return), it only came up with specific flights, listed as normal with the carrier and times. Is it working only in the US maybe?

hunterjumperguy January 15, 2020

That picture is of an Alaska Airlines flight. You can see Alaska branding in the photo, but the poster even says it's on Alaska. You guys hiring proofreaders by any chance?

kkua January 15, 2020

Be mindful: some of their booking classes on full service carriers do not earn frequent flier miles. So, that’s another variable to consider.

Firewind January 15, 2020

Is it in Basic Economy?