Hacking Priceline: A Game-Changer For Bidding On Hotels

by Michael Scepaniak on January 9, 2011 in travel

Milwaukee Art Museum

Bidding for hotels on Priceline is like buying a new car. You have two options:

  1. Go into the dealership without having done any research and negotiate down from the sticker price.
  2. Research sources beyond the dealer before going in and negotiate up from the dealer’s cost.

In this blog, I’ve been trying to explain how to go with option #2. In a prior post about how to determine how much to bid for hotels using Priceline, I covered sites such as BetterBidding and BiddingForTravel. I explained how to find successful bids made by other Priceline users and how to use them to determine your initial bid amounts. In another prior post, I explained how to use the unmatchable zone strategy to bid for hotels on Priceline.

In those posts, I tried to clearly explain the processes each step of the way. And, while the steps aren’t very complex, they aren’t all that straight-forward either. Combine this with the facts that a) Priceline can be unforgiving and b) bidding for hotels isn’t a good option for every circumstance, I wouldn’t find it surprising if some of you may still remain nervous about naming your own price for hotels using Priceline. No matter the savings, there’s still a lot of work and some risk involved.

The Bidding Traveler

Well, the internet may just have sprung forth a solution for ya’ – The Bidding Traveler. It’s a new web site which appears to have launched in early December (last month), and it could be a game-changer when it comes to bidding for hotels on Priceline. Why? It takes all (ok, most) of the work out of the process. It tells you “how much you should bid on Priceline, what hotels you could win, and the best bidding strategy to use” (to repeat The Bidding Traveler’s own words).

I haven’t used it yet, myself. But, just looking at it, I’m impressed. There’s no sifting for past bids or learning the bidding process on your own. When you hit the home page, you’re asked for the same info you’d give Priceline – your destination, check-in/check-out dates, and room count.

The Bidding Traveler home page

Once you provide this, you’re taken to a page which looks a whole lot like Priceline’s main bidding page, but with all sorts of additional useful information. Once you select your target zone and quality level, The Bidding Traveler shows you the following:

  • The hotels that have been won in the past, including the range of winning bids.
  • Recently rejected bids.
  • Recently accepted bids.

How cool is that?! It’s also smart enough to personalize the displayed bid ranges based on whether your dates are for a weekend or mid-week stay, since the prices will most likely vary considerably.

It’ll then ask you to provide starting and highest-acceptable bid amounts, which you should base on the bid ranges it provides and your own budget.

The Bidding Traveler starting and maximum bid amounts

Once you submit your choices, it’ll present you with a recommended bidding strategy, which takes into account an advanced (and more complex) variant of the unmatchable zone Priceline bidding strategy I covered in an earlier post. But, since The Bidding Traveler has performed all of the calculations and analysis for you, there’s no planning work required on your part. Pretty sweet. 🙂

What comes next depends on which browser you are using (at the time of this writing). If you are using Internet Explorer, you’ll have the option to choose between automatic bidding or manual (but guided) bidding. If you are using a browser other than Internet Explorer, you’ll only be able to go with manual bidding.

The Bidding Traveler automatic and manual bidding modes

The site is improving rapidly, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this limitation disappear sometime soon.

With automatic bidding, The Bidding Traveler “drives” your browser through the bidding strategy you have agreed to – through the Priceline site itself! Crazy. With manual bidding, they point you at the Priceline site, with instructions at the top of the page guiding you each step of the way.

Like I said before, The Bidding Traveler is a game-changer. The destination-, zone-, and quality level- specific suggested bid ranges alone are fantastic. The self-driving and guided bidding modes are almost too good to be true. And, at this early point, for a lot of Priceline novices, “too good to be true” is probably accurate.

Some Concerns And Unanswered Questions

Truth be told, the site shows some warts. In manual (guided) mode, the instructions fixed to the top of Priceline’s site get squished and impossible to read. In automatic mode, you can’t back away from the final confirmation page to adjust your bidding amounts and/or strategy. Of course, these are nits which I expect to be addressed quickly. But, I do have other concerns, some of which have been brought up by the Priceline bidding gurus over at flyertalk in the discussion thread where The Bidding Traveler was introduced.

  • It’s unclear where The Bidding Traveler is sourcing its rejected and accepted bid information. Since it just got started in December (I believe), it’s hard to believe the creators gathered so much bid history so quickly (a little more than a month).
  • It’s unclear how (and if) counteroffers are handled. (Priceline will sometimes make counteroffers to goad you into immediately making a too-high bid after a declined bid.) Are they ignored, anticipated, or a potential source of bugs?
  • It’s unclear how up-to-date The Bidding Traveler’s zone maps are. Are they always in sync with Priceline’s? (It’s critical to know the boundaries of your target and unmatchable zones so you end up where you want.)
  • The low end of the bid range it displays for any given combination of zone(s), dates, and quality level might not be the lowest price available. The Bidding Traveler is very Priceline-specific. For some destinations, Priceline is not your best bet.
  • I have to wonder how Priceline will react to The Bidding Traveler should it gain much traction and usage. Would Priceline take steps to shut it down?
  • For destinations that Priceline does not cover well, or which only have one zone, it would be wiser for you to bid patiently on your own (once every 24 hours) than to use The Bidding Traveler. The creators of The Bidding Traveler have explained their implementation of some pretty sophisticated bidding algorithms. But, those algorithms are rendered useless in destinations/situations where no unmatchable zones are available.
  • Who’s behind the site? I see a live chat widget and a generic support email address, but none of the creators are showing any sort of willingness to make their names or contact information publicly accessible. And neither the blog post or forum posts are attributed to any concrete author. I find that troublesome and off-putting. It’s OK for a well-established company to remain faceless, but not a fledgling one looking to foster trust.

So, there are some caveats. Overall, I think The Bidding Traveler looks like a fantastic tool and that it holds a ton of promise. But, I’d wait a while for the Priceline gurus to hammer it and the early adopters to help the creators work through the kinks. I commend the creators of The Bidding Traveler on their efforts and congratulate them for making Priceline bidding more approachable. If all goes well, I might be simplifying my previous posts to “use The Bidding Traveler”.

Does The Bidding Traveler look as impressive to you as it does to me? What would hold you back from using it? Let me know in the comments.

Mike
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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

benjamin January 11, 2011 at 2:26 am

Hi Mike!

Thank you for all the information you have been posting… I really never used this way to book a hotel room but it seems that you can save a lot if done in the right way.
I will defenitely give it a try for my summer holidays…

Regards,
Benjamin.

Reply

Michael Scepaniak January 11, 2011 at 7:10 am

You’re welcome, Benjamin. That’s what I like to hear! Thank you for reading.

Mike….

Reply

paul January 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm

The bidding traveler s not ready for primetime.

First, the strategy of rebidding has been well known for years on sites like betterbidding.com. What is nice about bidding traveler is that it gives you a nice map of hotels that have accepted bids recently and a suggested bidding amount.

Why not ready for prime time? I just tried to use it in Washington DC and there are two glaring problems.

First, even though i told the site again and again that Crystal City had 4* hotels, the site kept asking me to bid using Crystal City. The site was not updating its database. A less sophisticated user would have ended up with a hotel in an area he or she did not want.

Second, the bigger problem is that it only goes sequentially through the zones, without mixing and matching combinations. In DC for instance, it walked me through 6 consecutive bids using pairs (zones 1 and 2, 1 and 3, 1 and 4, etc).

It told me to restart the process each time I began a new bid. However, in the case of DC, this was a complete waste because there were six zones without 4* hotels. It is much easier to just bid in this order: (1,2) (1,2,3) (1,2,3,4) etc. (These zone listings are just illustrative.)

Perhaps in other cities, the bidding strategy will take advantage of different mixes (1,2), (1,3), (1,2,3) but it did not in DC. It provided a bidding strategy that was a real time waster.

Reply

Michael Scepaniak January 12, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Paul,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

> it gives you a nice map of hotels that have accepted bids…
Yes, the accepted and rejected bids plotted by zone is very cool. In my mind, that feature alone makes the site useful.

> The site was not updating its database.
Interesting observation. Given the new-ness of the site, they might be well-served to offer some sort of satisfaction guarantee to address doubts about their zone and quality-level accuracy.

> it only goes sequentially through the zones…
It sounds like their manual bidding mode mimics their automated bidding mode. The underlying bidding strategy is probably optimized for saving money, at the expense of wasting time (when stepped through manually).

Awesome insights!

Mike….

Reply

JAlpino January 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Great article Mike, thanks for the tip-off (and in-depth overview of course) on The Bidding Traveler site. It seemed pretty intuitive and having the accepted/rejected bids right there was great, especially for a novice hotel-booker(?) like myself.

In response to some of your concerns,

“I have to wonder how Priceline will react to The Bidding Traveler should it gain much traction and usage. Would Priceline take steps to shut it down?”

– It looks like The Bidding Traveler might be part of Priceline’s affiliate network. The url they use to load Priceline.com in the manual bid mode is passing in a referral id. If they are infact an affiliate, then it’s probably unlikely that Priceline will shut them down.

“It’s unclear where The Bidding Traveler is sourcing its rejected and accepted bid information….”

– Looking at Priceline’s affiliate program (pricelinepartnernetwork.com), it looks they offer everything up to full stack development from a web company owned by Priceline(hbcweb.com). It’s quite possible that The Bidding Traveler has access to Priceline’s raw data, like the map boundaries and actual bid information.

Once again, your write up was very informative, keep up the quality posts!

Reply

Michael Scepaniak January 12, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Great comments!

I don’t think the fact that The Bidding Traveler is an affiliate counts for much. I’m guessing that Priceline has hundreds, if not thousands, of affiliates. Let me expand on my original concern about them getting shut down…

I have to believe Priceline (with their “Name your own price” feature) benefits from irrational, uneducated, emotional, error-prone, non-systematic bidding. Hence, their inflated and misleading counter-offers, median retail price quotes, and warnings about bids being too low. The Bidding Traveler is navigating users past all of that.

If The Bidding Traveler allows bidders to win with bids that are $5 above the minimum-accepted bid rather than $20 above the minimum-accepted bid, Priceline’s margins shrink (I have to believe). If The Bidding Traveler brings Priceline a corresponding increase in volume, maybe that’s something Priceline is OK with. But, it makes me wonder.

Of course, I’m just speculating. And, you could very well be correct that the partner network might allow them liberties that I don’t understand.

Thank you for the awesome feedback and input!

Mike….

Reply

JAlpino January 13, 2011 at 10:19 am

Yeah it would be interesting to understand Priceline’s revenue model when it comes to hotel sales; do they get a percentage of the final price, or do they just receive a flat fee for each completed sale regardless of price….

Reply

Michael Scepaniak January 13, 2011 at 7:09 pm

As far as I understand it, the hotels enter their rooms into the GDS’s (Global Distribution Systems), specifying the minimum amount they are willing to accept from an online travel agency (OTA). I’ve been led to believe that, because Priceline works from this inventory, even for Name Your Own Price, Priceline keeps everything above the minimum the hotel specifies. But, I have not heard that from any official sources.

Mike….

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Chip March 21, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Seems like the “Bidding Traveler” Website has been abandoned…..haven’t seen any traffic on it in months.

Reply

Michael Scepaniak March 21, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Chip,

Hmm, how do you know what sort of traffic it gets? Regardless, I can’t say that I doubt your suspicion, as the blog was last updated nearly two years ago. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it’s been abandoned, though.

Mike….

Reply

Michael Scepaniak September 3, 2013 at 6:44 pm

I just heard that the site has been overhauled with several new features. So, definitely not abandoned. The site does a poor job of demonstrating this, though.

Mike….

Reply

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