When my favorite college basketball team was invited to play in a prestigious holiday tournament, my order for game tickets went out immediately. It was in Indianapolis--only a few hours from home--but far enough that I needed a room for the night.
The game venue was the impressive Conseco Fieldhouse. It is downtown, as are a number of other attractions. I decided not to stay in the suburbs, but neither did I want to pay $150 USD or more for a convenient room.
It's these situations for which Priceline is made. Low-ball the downtown hotels and steal away a room at half-price, right?
It would be far easier if you knew what bids have been successful for that particular zone and class of hotel in the recent past, but Priceline's policy does not allow such revelations.
The basis of Priceline's deal with vendors is anonymity.
But these days, the Web boasts a number of sites dedicated to passing along such information.
How It Works
Most of these sites are organized by state and city. Indianapolis is visited enough to have a track record, and I noticed entries from several Priceline winners who had snagged downtown rooms in three-star operations for $50 USD/night.
When I placed that bid on Priceline, I got the standard warning that it was too low. The advisory said something to the effect that Priceline really wanted me to be successful, so it would be wise to "increase your original offer price."
I didn't accept the advice.
Some 15 minutes later, I had a pre-paid reservation notification in my email box. With taxes, the total came to $60.37 USD. A quick check of the hotel's reservation site got me a quote of $140+ for the same room at the same time.
What You Need to Know
Priceline takes your credit card number before bidding. If they find a service at the price you set, the transaction is billed to your account. No refunds.
You don't get a choice of flights, hotels, etc. It all hinges on where Priceline can match your bid.
Processing charges and taxes can add 20% to your total. Parking fees, energy fees, and other add-ons aren't included, either.
If your first bid is unsuccessful, you'll have to revise your amount and choose other variables on the next attempt. If you're unable to do so, you'll have to wait 24 hours to try again. If you think that's bad, consider that until fairly recently, the wait was 72 hours.
With hotels, all you get is a room. Examples: requests for non-smoking rooms or two beds will be considered, but the hotel is under no obligation to provide anything beyond a room with a bed.
Web sites that reveal vendors and successful bids provide their services free of charge, but they request as many details as possible in return: price, location, amenities, dates of travel, and other items helpful to future bidders for similar products.