You could be in your desired hotel room for less by using a few hacks.
Although hotels use “opaque sites” like Priceline and Hotwire to unload unsold inventory without diluting their brand names, with a little sleuthing customers can often figure out what hotel they’re booking. But as I recently found out, sleuths like me should beware, because if you play the game long enough, once in awhile you’re going to end up in the “wrong” property.
For my blog Frugalista, on Chicago Tribune partner site ChicagoNow, I summed up the techniques I use to figure out what no-name hotels are being offered on Priceline or Hotwire. These techniques are for using when you hope to stay at a specific property but don’t want to pay the publicly available rate:
1) Check the site you’re shopping on and other booking sites to find out how many stars your desired property is listed at. Note whether there are other properties with the same number of stars listed in the city or neighborhood.
2) Check whether the site you’re shopping on offers your desired hotel as a named property. I don’t know if this is a hard and fast rule, but I’ve noticed that if Priceline is offering a property upfront, you’re likely to find the very same place on the “name your own price” section.
3) Check a forum such as BetterBidding or BidonTravel to find out what hotels others have gotten recently by bidding in the same area you’re looking in. Usually you will notice that in a certain star category, everyone has gotten the same property. If this ISN’T the property you want, don’t bid because this is the property you’re likely to end up in!
4) If others are indeed getting your desired property, go ahead and figure out what to bid. This is something you can also learn from BetterBidding; people post the amounts of their winning and losing bids, often revealing the lowest possible price that will “win” the room. If you’re not sure what the lowest possible price is, and you have enough time, bid lower than the lowest price you see others have paid and try bidding again when allowed 24 hours later.
5) If you don’t get winning bid information from other travelers, just try bidding 50-75% less than published rates. BidonTravel’s tip sheet suggests checking rates for the same day of the week you’ll be traveling on.
In the past, I have used these techniques to get into the same hotel as other family members for a wedding and to get in the preferred spot for an urban getaway.
However, the techniques are NOT foolproof. Take this weekend, when my family is heading to a wedding near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I did my research, and felt pretty sure that the Hilton Garden, where the family was staying, was the only 2-1/2 star hotel in Oconomowoc, a small town west of the city. I went on Priceline and bid for 2-1/2 stars, only to be informed after bidding that I had been “upgraded” to a 3-star property across the freeway.
Oh well — maybe after a weekend of wedding activities, we’ll have had enough family togetherness by the time we hit the hotel anyway. And at least I paid less than half of what I would have paid through my desired hotel’s Web site or on the phone.
There was a warning that my scheme was not going to work out: Priceline had marked the 3-star category as the “best value” before I entered my bid. If you’re bidding and see such a mark on a higher star category, I would expect to be upgraded to the category Priceline is pushing, whether you like it or not.
Photo by Oakbrookterracehotels, used via Creative Commons license.