The Priceline Bidding Primer

Old Apr 30, 12, 5:29 pm
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The Priceline Bidding Primer

Using Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price" for Hotels

Getting the best deals on Priceline requires a little bit of work and some flexibility. However the savings available are tremendous. The worst deal I have ever gotten on Priceline was about $10-$15 a night off a hotel I was going to book anyway. The best deals I have gotten have been 60-65% off hotels I was quite happy to stay at. I remember once being at the desk at a Sheraton and hearing the person next to me say he was on a military rate of $99 – and I had paid $50. Do not be put off by some of the qualifications and limitations I’ve expressed.

You will not always be at exactly the hotel you want at exactly the address you want. But you will get a hotel in the star range of what you expect or higher, in the areas you have specified. You will not ask for a 3.5-star hotel in downtown or northwest, and end up with a Comfort Inn 15 miles west of town. You will simply never get a worse hotel than you specified, that is not in the geographic areas you are willing to accept.

Getting the best deals on Priceline

1. The Basics

Let’s say you want a 3.5-star or higher hotel in Metropolis. However, there are a lot of zones. There are are the zones of Kent, Olson, Lane, White, Luthor, and Krypton. You only want to be in Olson or Kent.

Well, first, of course there must be 3.5-star or higher hotels in Olson or Kent. Let’s assume there are.

First, go to or and get an idea of what people are paying, and probably also what hotels you are likely to get.

Let’s say your judgment is that it will cost about $60 to get your hotel. Check Priceline by clicking on each zone separately and note the highest star level available. Say that Luthor and White have 3.5-star hotels and Krypton and Lane don’t.

Priceline will only let you bid once per 24 hours, to prevent people from bidding a dollar and then going up a dollar until they get their hotel. Their business model is based on getting a hotel to sell them a room for $50 and hoping you bid $60 or $70 for it. Priceline keeps the difference. And that’s their right. But if you change your bid, you can rebid immediately. A “change” includes more zones, different dates, or lower (not higher) star levels.

So bid $50 for Kent. If you don’t get it, bid $52 for Kent and Krypton. You don’t want to be in Krypton. No problem, Krypton doesn’t have 3.5-star or higher hotels. You can’t get one. But if there are 3.5 star hotels in Kent for $52, you will now get one.

If you don’t get it, back out and start over. (Priceline won’t make you do this, but to maximize the number of bids you can make, back out after very two bids.) Bid $54 for Kent and Lane. If you don’t get it, bid $56 for Kent, Lane and Krypton.

If that fails, go back to the zone selection screen and start over. (You have to do this because Priceline will not let you delete zones, and to maximize the number of bids you can make, you have to delete zones. See the appendix.) Bid again, substituting Olson for Kent. Then go through the rest of the process $2 at a time, and if you still don’t get it, start over using Olson and Kent both, and rotating through Lane and Krypton. Basically, just keep raising your price a little while bidding for a unique combination of zones. If you want to save time, raise the price by more each bid. Also, if you don’t have many possible zones (say you need the hotel tonight and only want to be in one zone and have only two “free bid” zones that don’t have your star level – then you have only four possible bids available) you may want to raise the price more quickly to be sure you get your hotel in the allowed number of bids.

A little observation will show that the number of bids you can make is equal to 2 to power of the number of possible zones (zones you want to be in, and zones you cannot get a hotel in). This method inherently works best for higher star levels.

2. Some Wrinkles

Priceline will sometimes counteroffer. Say you bid $54 and Priceline counteroffers at $66. Don’t take it. This is Priceline saying ”You’re getting warm.” Usually you will get the room about halfway between the counteroffer and your last bid. Only take it if you are running out of bids. Otherwise, just keep bidding.

3. When to bid

Usually you get the best deals at the last minute, but you can also get shut out. There’s no absolute science to this. One year I was going to a meeting in Boca Raton and waited until the last minute, and the best I could do was $125 for a $175 Holiday Inn. A few years later I went to the same meeting, waited for the last minute, and paid $55 for a $229 Marriott. Patience will usually get you the best results, but there are no guarantees.

4. Fees

Priceline does charge fees. When you make your bid, they will add hotel taxes, and also the Priceline fee. The fee is usually per stay, not per night, so you will pay the same fee in dollars whether you stay one night or 5. I think the fee is around $7. Priceline will not break out this fee separate from the hotel taxes, but the full amount you are paying will be clearly disclosed (but see “Resort Fee Scam” below).

Note that sometimes Priceline will say things like “You can extend your stay at the same price.” Every time you make a Priceline booking, you will get charged the Priceline fee. So try not to make multiple bookings for a single stay, try to get them all in one stay.

5. Drawbacks

There are drawbacks and limitations.

a) Location. You can get a hotel anywhere in the zone. Often this doesn’t matter. But if you must be within walking distance to a certain location, and the zone is 4 miles across, you could have to walk four miles if your hotel is on one side and your destination is on the other. You could be far from the subway.
b) Amenities. Sometimes the amenities are guaranteed, but not always. You might get a hotel in the “airport” zone but it might not have an airport shuttle. You might want free breakfast or free internet or both, and not get them. You might see that most of the 2 and 2.5-star hotels have these amenities, but you could get upgraded to a 3-star Marriott or Hilton that doesn’t. Priceline now has “guaranteed amenities” in many cases, but I haven’t perused them much.
c) Bedding Type. You are guaranteed bedding for two, but not what type. Most of the time the hotels will honor requests, but they don’t have to, or they might surcharge you. If you are traveling with a friend you don’t want to share a bed with, the hotel might give you a king (or even a queen) and not even offer two beds, or charge extra; if you’re traveling with your significant other, you could end in separate beds. This is not usually a huge problem, but it can be significant in New York City particularly.
d) Long Stays. If you want a long stay, it could be problematic. If you want a 10-night stay, and the hotel has availability for Priceline rates for 9 nights, you won’tyou’re your 10-night stay. Sometimes you might want to split up a long stay into two separate bids, taking the risk that you could have to change hotels.
e) The Resort Fee scam. Hotels can charge you “resort fees” that will not be part of your quoted rate, and if you don’t pay them, you will lose your pre-paid reservation. I consider this somewhere between fraud and theft, and I have personally pursued it through the Federal Trade Commission, the New York Times, and a class-action lawsuit, none of which have so far been successful. You are very likely to get hit with resort fees in Las Vegas, and sometimes in beach areas. If you do your research, you usually won’t get blindsided. But what seems like a good deal could become really mediocre after paying a resort fee. As things stand now you have two choices, accept the risk or don’t use Priceline.
f) No points. You usually will not get hotel loyalty points. If you are an elite member, you can often get your elite perks but it’s not guaranteed.
g) Watch your reservation. If you do not check into your hotel by 11PM, your reservation might be cancelled, so be sure to call. If you don’t check in on the first day, it will be cancelled and you will lose the whole pre-paid reservation. Again, if you call (say your flight was cancelled), this can usually be resolved.
h) Your reservation is pre-paid and not cancellable. Period. No “Cancel by 3PM the day before” or anything like that. I have heard of people being allowed to cancel just after booking for a $25 fee, if they discovered they made a mistake. Be very sure you review your bid before you confirm it.
i) Trade-offs. It’s not uncommon to say “I would pay $75 for a 4-star or $60 for a 3-star” or “I want to be in Kent, but I’d be in Olson if it’s at least $10 less.” There is no effective way to bid to this tradeoff. Let’s say you start out bidding for Kent, which is where you most want to be, and you think you can get it for $60 but you don’t. You bid up to $70 and still no luck, so now you add in Olson for $72 and get it on the first try. Well, it’s possible you could have had Olson for $50 – you’ll never know.

6. What About Air Tickets and Cars?

I've focused on hotels in this post because they are what I'm most familar with.

I have never used Priceline for an air ticket. The main drawback is that you cannot specify your time of departure. If you want to leave after work, you could get an 8AM flight. If you want to be there tonight, you could get a redeye (if they exist on your route). You could get an undesirable routing. I don't mean to trash the idea of Priceline flights - I know people who have used them - but I can't give you much information.

I have used Priceline often for cars. There just aren't as many tricks available for them. One thing I know is that if Priceline tells you that for $25 you have a "Good Chance" to get your car and for $28 you have a "Great Chance" - you can probably get it for under $25. Also, Priceline car rental bidding requires picking up at an airport and returning to the same airport. If you need any flexibility, Priceline might not be appropriate.

7. Some Case Studies

So how does this really work?

I had a one-day professional conference in Boca Raton, Florida. The conference negotiated a $149 rate with the Hilton Garden Inn. I was flying into Palm Beach airport, about 25 miles north, and I would have a car. I wanted a 3-star or higher hotel. In this case, I was willing to stay either in Boca Raton or Palm Beach. I started with Boca, where there were 3 zones, of which one (Deerfield Beach) did not have hotels higher than 2.5-star. I bid $50 for a 3-star in Boca Raton and was rejected, then I bid $55 for Boca Raton and Deerfield beach, and got it. If that had failed, I would have bid $50 for 3-star in Palm Beach Airport, then added North Palm Beach, Jupiter, and Central Palm Beach, none of which have higher than 2.5 star.

Another time I wanted a 4-star hotel in Downtown Washington. Because there were a lot of zones in DC and suburbs, I was able to start at $80 and I made about 10-12 bids before finally getting a hotel for $117. $117 was more than I wanted to pay, but it was still a good deal for what I was getting, and it was the day I was actually going. By comparison, the convention I had just left was close to but not quite in the zone I wanted, and the negotiated convention rate for the 4-star hotel was $179. The rate for a room on the hotels’ websites would have been over $200. So while I didn’t get as awesome a deal as usual, I still saved a good 40%.

Appendix: The Bidding Matrix

In order to make the maximum number of bids, you have to bid for unique combinations of zones. Simple adding one zone at a time will not maximize it. Sometimes you don’t need to do that. If there are six “free rebid” zones for your star level, and you are raising your bid enough each time that you’re sure you’ll get it, just add the zones one at a time.

Suppose you want to be in zone A, and you have B/C/D/E available for free rebids. If you want to make 5 bids, you can do it the easy way and bid:


However, to maximize your bids, you would bid something like:


Note that in order to do this effectively, you must frequently return to the main screen. If you bid for A, and then AB, you cannot delete B. To bid for AC, you have to back up to the main screen and start over. (You don't have to actually log out.) So after bidding A and AB, you would back up to the main screen and bid AC, then ABC.

Last edited by redtop43; May 14, 12 at 8:54 am
redtop43 is offline  
Old May 2, 12, 9:14 am
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A great start to what many don't know. I'll await other suggestions and then make it a sticky.
jabez is offline  
Old May 2, 12, 12:38 pm
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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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Most of this in on the FAQs of the bidding sites but the effort is heroic. There should be a section of a list of the limitations with great emphasis about checking that everything on the bid is correct, especially dates and zone, and using a screen shot to keep a record. The bidding matrix is explained much more clearly as "permutational bidding" on BFT. It should be noted that if you bid "A" then "AB" you are not able to bid "AC" without including 'B" - unless you logout first and then log in. This removes "B" from every bid that contains "A" and so on. Also, you should have some idea of where to start. Using Hotwire can give you a clue as to an upper limit for that zone and date. Certainly, if you assume ratings are equal, go about 20% below Hotwire. Priceline's Deal Preferences can also give you a good idea of where to start since it lists recent wins - not necessarily the lowest but often they are.
B1 is offline  
Old May 3, 12, 10:17 am
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I think other suggestions and personal opinions might be added to this, like:

Why many don't think bidding on air is smart.

How zones can be changed by PL to confuse you.

jabez is offline  
Old May 27, 12, 8:13 pm
Join Date: Jan 2011
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Nice! I like the note/advice about the Priceline fee.

I took a hand at writing some how-to articles about Priceline hotel-bidding last year... here:
I've been meaning to write one or two more, but haven't gotten to it. Feedback appreciated all the same.

Any other good sources of info we can link to?

ihispanic is offline  
Old May 28, 12, 4:56 pm
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Regarding Priceline Cars - I've had the best luck with weekend rentals at large airports where the cars could sit on a lot without collecting any revenue. I'm talking $10 for a midsize car for a Saturday pickup/Sunday dropoff. Be warned though -- the company will push every service and upgrade to you.
ChiTownAbs is offline  
Old Aug 28, 12, 11:51 am
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Originally Posted by ihispanic View Post

Any other good sources of info we can link to?

There is a collection of good articles on
tommy2tone is offline  
Old Feb 11, 13, 1:38 pm
Join Date: May 2010
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Originally Posted by ihispanic View Post

Any other good sources of info we can link to?

There's a great little utility app here that generates a rebidding chart for you, so you don't have to mess with doing it by hand.
ttrfanatic is offline  
Old Feb 26, 13, 3:51 am
Join Date: Jan 2013
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Originally Posted by ttrfanatic View Post
There's a great little utility app here that generates a rebidding chart for you, so you don't have to mess with doing it by hand.
THis looks very god. If anyone has tried it and verified it works well, I suggest the OP include it in the advice.
bridgeair is offline  
Old Mar 21, 13, 7:35 pm
Join Date: Apr 2012
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Question Priceline Rebidder Program

Originally Posted by bridgeair View Post
This looks very good. If anyone has tried it and verified it works well, I suggest the OP include it in the advice.
I'm playing around with takes awhile to load -- you think that your computer is frozen, but suddenly the program starts. I did download an update, and hopefully that will solve the problem.

I have one question: How would you use the Priceline Rebidder program, or calculate manually your options if there are TWO ZONES that you would be perfectly happy to stay in?

PolarSeltzer is offline  
Old Apr 4, 13, 5:51 pm
Join Date: Feb 2012
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Caution! Rental car Best Price Guarantee doesn't include Hotwire.

Rental car Best Price Guarantee doesn't include Hotwire. I called regarding rental car Best Price Guarantee as I find a better price on Got denied by the rep citing the following wording:

"Rates on other opaque websites, where customers are provided with their rental car company information after the reservation is completed, are not eligible."
guoguo914 is offline  
Old Apr 21, 13, 1:09 pm
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I wanted to mention that I bid through cashback sites before every bid. So if my bid is not successful, I back out and re-enter through the cashback site. Currently is the best rebate I've found for name your own price bidding. You can check for priceline on or to see what the best deals are. These sites don't always have the most current information and don't mention for example.
Frenchie Flyer is offline  
Old Aug 21, 13, 9:48 am
Join Date: Mar 2013
Posts: 14
I want to mention few methods that I use for rebidding:
1. I use Visa gift card with a $10 bal.ance
when Price.line asks for my credit card num.ber, I enter a Visa gift card with a $10 bal.ance in it, so if Priceline accept a bid that I don't want I can still have more chances to rebid.
2. Another useful method in some cities is using the rebidding tool at that producing automatically the options:
3. Another thing that I started doing recently is rebidding again through my smartphone I now always have another IP address for rebidding

Good Luck to you all!
Sam75 is offline  
Old Aug 22, 13, 5:31 pm
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Love this sticky, definitely going to be using it plus for future trips.
frostairlines is offline  
Old Oct 2, 13, 9:07 pm
Join Date: Oct 2013
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stay away from Priceline..

Using Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price" for Hotels

I had a very bad experience with and I am not going to use this website again.
I was travelling to Europe for three weeks and I rented a car through from the Berlin airport about 3 months in advance. At the time I made my purchase, their price was about 2 Dollars per day cheaper than other website and I would save almost 50 Dollars by booking with them and so I went ahead and did so. When I went to pick up my car, I was told by the car rental company that the car I booked (economy) is not available and I was instead offered a similar car (compact) at 20 dollars per day more expensive. This now meant that I had to pay more than 400 Dollars extra.
I called Priceline and explained what was going on and I was told that they were not responsible for guaranteeing the availability of the vehicles and when I asked them why do they ask for my credit card information to confirm my reservation, the customer service agent told me that he can proceed and cancel my reservation without charging may card!!
Long story short, I not only had a very bad start of my trip, but also ended up paying 380 Dollars more than what I would have normally paid had I used a different website to arrange my car rental.
All I can say is that is not conducting business honestly. What is the point of quoting a price to the customer and then confirming his reservation after getting his credit card details when you simply won't accept any responsibility and won't guarantee the reservation. How is that even reservation. To me it sounds more like a trap. They simply quote you a cheap price and if you are lucky and get it, they earn their commission and if you don't get it, you are the one who is screwed and Priceline will not accept any responsibility.... and who knows, maybe they still get paid..
I would say stay away...
msh2013 is offline  

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