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How Priceline Works

Bidding for Budget Travel


Berlin's Museum Island

Cheaper hotel bills open up new opportunities for seeing the world's great cities.

Priceline isn't for everyone.

You can't choose the hotel or even the precise location in which you will stay. Still, your credit card is charged and the rate is not refundable.

You're not even guaranteed a choice of beds or smoking preference.

So why the addiction?

I just booked a room at Berlin's Westin Grand Hotel for $70 USD per night. This summer, I stayed in two major (read expensive) American cities, landing prime locations for $50 per night. This fall, I'll stay in a business-class hotel for $34 per night.

Read through to the end of the article, and you'll find one "mistake" bid. Even there, I landed a three-star hotel in one of Europe's most touristed cities for $60.

Let's start with the big win: Berlin's Westin Grand. Priceline bid: $70 Room rate shown on hotel Web site: 240 EUR (roughly $240 USD at the time of the bid, but exchange rates are now far less favorable for Americans in Europe). Best discount rate found: $234 Savings on Priceline: $164 USD

Impressed? Here's how I did it:

My first bid was for a five-star property at $70. Priceline sent me a message saying this amount had "almost no chance" of acceptance. They were right. It failed.

But this is where it gets interesting.

Once a bid is rejected, you cannot bid again on the same itinerary for 24 hours. However, Priceline will allow additional rebids immediately for each change you make in either the geographical zone of the hotels or the quality level (one through five stars).

In this way, bidders can take a number of shots at what they want. Cities with four or five Priceline zones and at least a few top quality hotels afford great opportunities for these multiple attempts.

In my Berlin bidding, the Tiergarten-Ku'damm zone was attractive to me, so I chose to change the quality level first.

My second bid was also $70, but I added the four-star quality level. Now I'm saying I'll take either a four or a five. Illogical as it seems, I got the five at the same price as the previous failed bid.

Don't try to make sense of it. The administrators at BiddingForTravel were baffled, too. They run an excellent Web site where people share successful and unsuccessful Priceline strategies. They see a lot of things happen every day, yet found this situation surprising.

Another way to beat Priceline is to add zones in which you are fairly certain high quality hotels do not exist. Click "next" and find out how this strategy landed me two excellent rooms in otherwise high-priced areas.

All photographs by Mark Kahler, licensed to About.com.

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